SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco’s district attorney says his office will toss out or reduce thousands of criminal convictions for marijuana dating back decades.
On Wednesday, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said his office is going to look into thousands of cases dating back to 1975, retroactively applying a new California law legalizing some recreational cannabis possession.
The new law allows people whose past crimes would now not be penalized in the same way to petition to have their convictions overturned or reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
But Gascon said his office is going to be proactive and do the legwork for the people affected.
“We have an opportunity to lead the way (statewide and nationally),” he said.
There are 3,038 misdemeanor marijuana crimes that will be expunged, he told reporters.
Another 4,940 felony cases need to be reviewed to see which ones qualify to be reduced to a misdemeanor.
Murderers and rapists, for instance, would not be eligible, Gascon said.
“What we want to make sure is … that people who were really the victims of the war on drugs, in general terms, and are people that are trying to get their lives in the right direction, that they get relief they deserve,” he said. “We have damaged a lot of people in our community.”
Statewide about 4,900 Californians have filed petitions asking to have their records wiped of cannabis convictions. In San Francisco the number is about 23, Gascon said.
Gascon said no one in San Francisco will have to pay for an attorney, take off work to attend court or file time-consuming paperwork.
Officials who attended the news conference praised the decision, saying the number of marijuana arrests disproportionately affected minorities.
The convictions make it more difficult for people to get jobs, loans or places to live, they said.
Amos C. Brown of the NAACP’s San Francisco office said the district’s attorney’s decision will help African-Americans “who’ve been the victims of an unjust criminal justice system, denied equality of opportunity” and had their humanity disrespected.
Laura Thomas of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy organization that says people should not be punished for what they put in their bodies, said applying the law retroactively is very important.
“It doesn’t feel like justice to change the laws for some people and leave other people in jail cells,” she said.
There are no misdemeanor cases in the courts now, Gascon said.
He believes that people curious about the status of their cases will be able to go to the DA’s website to see whether there has been a change.
Misdemeanors will be easier to expunge, Gascon said. Felony cases will involve more time.
“I think within a year our work will be done,” Gascon said.