The San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said on Wednesday in a statement that his office will dismiss and seal 3,038 misdemeanor convictions dating back to 1975 before the state’s legalization of marijuana went into effect. Those who were convicted will not be required to take any action, but if people want to clear their records or expunge them, they will have to petition the court.
Felony convictions will be reviewed and may be reduced to a misdemeanor conviction. That could be as many as 4,940 felony convictions to review.
“While drug policy on the federal level is going backward, San Francisco is once again taking the lead to undo the damage that this country’s disastrous, failed drug war has had on our nation and on communities of color in particular,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “Long ago we lost our ability to distinguish the dangerous from the nuisance, and it has broken our pocketbooks, the fabric of our communities, and we are no safer for it. While this relief is already available pursuant to Proposition 64 for anyone with a conviction, it requires that they know it is available and to retain an attorney to file the expungement paperwork. A criminal conviction can be a barrier to employment, housing, and other benefits, so instead of waiting for the community to take action, we’re taking action for the community.”
The move has the support of city residents. The DA’s statement said that the Department of Elections reported nearly 75% of San Franciscans voted to legalize marijuana and nearly three out of every four San Franciscans voted to provide this relief to those convicted of marijuana offenses.
The DA also noted the racial disparities that have occurred as a result of the arrests. “In particular, African American and Latino communities interact with the criminal justice system, including via arrests, bookings, and incarceration, at a rate far higher than their Caucasian counterparts.”
The statement went on to say that according to the city’s Cannabis Equity Report, the jump in total cannabis arrests in 2000 was accompanied by a jump in the disproportionality of African American arrests. “Arrests increased by 160% between 1999 and 2000, from 1,164 to 3,042. The percent of arrests featuring African American went up from 34% to 41% of all arrests, a 20% increase. Despite the high percentage of African American cannabis arrests, Black San Franciscans comprised just 7.8% of San Francisco’s population in 2000. Even as the number of total arrests drastically fell around 2011, after the downgrading of misdemeanor cannabis possession to an infraction, African American cannabis arrests as a percentage of total arrests hovered around 50%. According to census data, African Americans represented just 6% of San Francisco’s population in 2010.”