It was recently announced that 60,000 cannabis convictions will be dismissed in Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón and The Social Impact Center, which is a nonprofit organization with ties to government, grassroots organizations and people in underserved communities, are behind the dismissals.
The decision follows the passing of Assembly Bill 1793, which dismissed around 66,000 cannabis convictions in 2020. The latest dismissals were announced during “Week of Action and Awareness (WOAA),” once known as National Expungement Week. Now, around 125,000 dismissals in total have been granted.
In 2016, Gascón co-authored Proposition 64, known as The Adult Use of Marijuana Act. It legalized the possession, transport, purchase, consumption and sharing of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to eight grams of marijuana concentrates for adults aged 21 and older.
“Dismissing these convictions means the possibility of a better future to thousands of disenfranchised people who are receiving this long-needed relief,” Gascón said. “It clears the path for them to find jobs, housing and other services that previously were denied to them because of unjust cannabis laws.”
Gascón made the announcement with Felicia Carbajal, who’s the executive director and community leader of The Social Impact Center. “I have made it my life mission to help and support people who have been impacted by the ‘war on drugs,’” Carbajal said. “Giving people with cannabis convictions a new lease on life by expunging the records is something I have worked on for years, and I am grateful that we can now make it happen.”
Cannabis prohibition largely affects the Black and Latino communities, notably in Los Angeles. It remained a problem after the passing of Proposition 64. Lynne Lyman, who’s the former director of the Drug Policy Alliance, believes past mistakes are now being corrected.
“This is the unfinished work of Proposition 64,” Lyman said. “We created the opportunity for old cannabis convictions to be cleared, but it was up to local district attorneys to actually make it happen. Proposition 64 was always about more than legal weed; it was an intentional effort to repair the past harms of the war on drugs and cannabis prohibition, which disproportionately targeted people of color.”
Assembly Bill 1739 led to prosecutors reviewing past convictions. Unfortunately, the review only focused on cases from state Department of Justice data. Once the Los Angeles County court records were read, three decades worth of misdemeanor cases were discovered. There were 58,000 felony and misdemeanor cases remaining after 2020. Prisoners were unaware they were eligible for dismissal or resentencing. Now, their records have been sealed, as well, in hopes it won’t affect their immigrant status, educational and job opportunities.
After the passing of Proposition 64, communities of color continued to face injustice over cannabis in California’s most populated county. In 2021 alone, Black and Latino people accounted for over 75 percent of cannabis arrests in Los Angeles. Marijuana prohibition didn’t stop in Los Angeles County after legalization, although it didn’t largely affect white people. In 2019, whites only accounted for 10 percent of cannabis arrests. From 2004 to 2008 in Los Angeles, black people were arrested for cannabis at a rate seven times greater than white people.
Roadblocks were still in place after Proposition 64 and Assembly Bill 1793, which Alternate Public Defender Erika Anzoategui believes are now being taken down.
“The dismissal of 60,000 marijuana-related cases by DA Gascón is a pivotal step in reforming our criminal justice system,” Anzoategui said. “This sends the right signal to the community that the nation was wrong in its ‘war on marijuana’ and that criminal convictions for marijuana offenses have a disproportionately negative impact on communities of color. We join DA Gascón in removing roadblocks to employment, housing and education through the dismissal and sealing of these convictions.”