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Using Technology to Erase Old Pot Convictions is the Buzz in Los Angeles

by Douglas Ankney

Prosecutors in Los Angeles are using computer algorithms to wipe out or reduce up to 50,000 old marijuana convictions, years after the drug was legalized by voters in California. The county is teaming up with Code for America, a nonprofit tech organization that uses algorithms to find otherwise hard-to-identify cases from past decades. 

“This collaboration will improve people’s lives by erasing mistakes of their past and hopefully lead them on a path to a better future,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

California voters agreed to eliminating some pot-related crimes and to erasing past convictions or reducing felonies to misdemeanors when they legalized adult marijuana use in 2016. But it is a seemingly insurmountable task to identify the estimated 200,000 cases across the state. 

Those convicted have to hire lawyers to file petitions to get their records changed. In San Francisco, the office of District Attorney George Gascon began searching through thousands of old cases after only 23 people had taken advantage of the new law. 

The process was painstakingly slow until Gascon heard of Code for America and the “Clear My Record” algorithm. After partnering with the group, Gascon announced last month that 9,300 cases will be erased or reduced for free. 



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