California Lawmaker Introduces Bill to ‘Expedite’ Expunging Pot Convictions

A Democrat lawmaker has introduced a bill intended to give people convicted of marijuana possession a “fresh start” by “expediting” the removal or reduction of their convictions.

“[Bill] AB 1793 will give people the fresh start to which they are legally entitled and allow them to move on with their lives,” read a statement by Rob Bonta.  The lawmaker represents the 18th Assembly District, which includes Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro in California.

He added: “The War on Drugs unjustly and disproportionately targeted young people of color for enforcement and prosecution.”

Bonta emphasized that “expediting” the removal or reduction of convictions on records is already a legal entitlement.

“[People are] already legally entitled to this w/ #Prop64, but it’s too burdensome to do. Let’s fix it!” he wrote on his official Twitter account.

Proposition 64 was passed in November 2016 following a 57 percent approval vote.  It contained provisions to reduce or eliminate many marijuana law violations, and “it made those changes retroactive.

“That means people with felonies or misdemeanors on their records are now legally entitled to ask the courts to expunge or reduce those criminal records.”

People Unaware of Their Rights

Laura Thomas, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said she talks to many people who are unaware they can eliminate their past convictions under the new law, the Associated Press reported. She estimates more than 100,000 people are eligible to have their records changed.

Meanwhile, Bonta provided no cost estimate for his proposal. It would require county courts to identify eligible convictions, change the records and then notify people of the changes.

So far, around 5,000 people had applied for a change to their records since September.

Californians celebrate after Prop 64 passed to legalize marijuana in the state. (File image via Reuters)
Californians celebrate after Prop 64 passed to legalize marijuana in the state. (File image via Reuters)

Not the First Bill

This is not the first proposal seeking to help Californians with marijuana charges.

In 2017, a bill which sought to restrict state and local law enforcement from cooperating with federal efforts to crack down on anyone growing or selling cannabis legally under state law was introduced. However, it was stalled.

Federally, marijuana is illegal despite its legalization in eight U.S. states with California being the latest joiner on Jan. 1.

The bill introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles did not advance as the state Legislature waited to see what the U.S. government would do.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sparked uproar in the country after he rescinded an Obama-era rule. The former policy allowed states, which have already legalized marijuana, to operate its cannabis businesses without any federal intervention within its jurisdiction.

Jones-Sawyer hopes to see it move forward now following Sessions latest assault on what some have described as “war on liberty.”