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San Francisco and San Diego Expunging Marijuana Convictions Under Prop 64

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón is acting upon a provision of Proposition 64 that has received relatively little media attention but is nonetheless extremely significant for tens of thousands of individuals—reduction, dismissal, or expungement of certain previous marijuana convictions.

Most people are aware that Prop 64 legalizes the possession and purchase of up to one ounce of marijuana, and it also permits individuals to grow up to six plants for personal use. What many people do not know is that Prop 64 also permits individuals who have been convicted of possession crimes subsequently eliminated by Prop 64 to petition a court to expunge those convictions.

In San Francisco, individuals who are eligible for expungement do not have to take it upon themselves to navigate the process of getting their conviction reduced, dismissed, or expunged. District Attorney Gascón has ordered his office to retroactively apply the expungement provision to prior convictions going back to 1975. According to Gascón, about 5,000 felony convictions will be reviewed, recalled, and resentenced. Additionally, over 3,000 misdemeanor convictions will be dismissed and sealed. Importantly, the expungements will eliminate a significant barrier to employment and housing for thousands of affected individuals.

Although reduction, dismissal, or expungement under Prop 64 has been available for over a year, only 23 petitions for Prop 64 relief have been filed in San Francisco despite the fact thousands of people are eligible. Many people just are not aware this relief exists, and for those who do, the process is complex, time-consuming, and expensive, which discourages many who are eligible from seeking relief.

That’s why Gascón’s initiative is so noteworthy and important. He said, “So instead of waiting for the community to take action, we’re taking action for the community.” San Francisco Supervisor Jeff Sheehy added that Gascón’s plan removes the burden of those convicted of eligible marijuana offenses from asking the court for review.

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan has followed suit and is reviewing thousands of eligible cases. In fact, her office reportedly has already reduced hundreds of felony convictions to misdemeanors. Stephan’s office is prioritizing cases of individuals currently incarcerated for review.

Hopefully, other counties across California will follow San Francisco and San Diego’s example and voluntarily initiate review of eligible cases. Available relief that is functionally out-of-reach for those it is intended to help is practically meaningless.

If you have been convicted of a marijuana offense outside of San Francisco or San Diego that may be eligible for relief under Prop 64, you should contact the district attorney’s office that handled your case to check if it is initiating reviews of eligible cases. If not, there are free legal clinics, like those hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance, that assist eligible individuals.  


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