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SF to clear thousands of marijuana convictions under Prop 64

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District Attorney George Gascon, center, announced Wednesday that his office will expunge the records of people convicted of marijuana-related offenses in San Francisco since 1975 with the support of, from left, Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, Supervisor Malia Cohen and Rev. Amos Brown of the NAACP. (Michael Barba/S.F. Examiner)

Thousands of people convicted of marijuana offenses in San Francisco will soon have their records cleared under a plan from District Attorney George Gascon to retroactively apply Proposition 64 to every cannabis case in The City since 1975.

Gascon announced on Wednesday that his office will immediately dismiss and seal 3,038 misdemeanor convictions and review another 4,940 more serious felony convictions that could be reduced and resentenced.

“We want to address the wrongs that were caused by the failures of the War on Drugs for many years in this country and begin to fix the harm that was done not only to the entire nation but specifically to communities of color,” Gascon said.

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Under Prop. 64, California voters legalized recreational cannabis for adults over the age of 21 beginning in January. Prop. 64 also allowed those convicted of marijuana offenses to petition their cases for dismissal or reduction to a lesser offense.

But Gascon said only 23 people in San Francisco and 4,885 people in California have used Prop. 64 to petition their cases so far. Gascon’s plan is to begin the process automatically in San Francisco without those who are eligible having to hire an attorney or come to court.

“We will do all the work for them,” Gascon said.

The criminal justice system has disproportionately targeted people of color in San Francisco and across the nation, with drug offenses creating barriers to employment and housing for minorities. Gascon said that as many as 2.8 million Californians were arrested on cannabis offenses between 1915 and 2016.

“This is a giant step toward justice and it is a stride toward getting black people free to live in the community, to have jobs, to have health care, to have decent education,” said Rev. Amos Brown, leader of the local chapter of the NAACP.

Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the Bayview, said the effort goes hand-in-hand with the equity program she spearheaded to benefit cannabis dispensary applicants previously convicted of drug-related crimes.

“It’s the marrying of our political ideology, finally, in lockstep with our policy,” Cohen said.

Gascon announced the plan at a Hall of Justice news conference Wednesday alongside Brown, Cohen, Office of Cannabis Director Nicole Elliott, Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and Laura Thomas of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Gascon said those with cannabis misdemeanor offenses should check to see if their records have been cleared in the coming months.

The felony cases require a second layer of review and take longer to be resentenced.

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