That Old Conviction For Pot? It’s About To Go Away

5e45cc42b555c5000abe2657-eight.jpg(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

If you were ever convicted in Los Angeles County for having a joint, a lid or even a bale of marijuana, you can look forward to your criminal conviction being erased soon.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey has asked a judge to dismiss and seal the records of some 66,000 marijuana-related convictions for about 53,000 individuals dating back to 1961.

Lacey announced the move on Thursday, about 10 months after she first pledged to erase the cases. She said expunging the convictions could clear away an obstacle keeping thousands of people from getting better jobs, housing and education.

The request would “bring much-needed relief to communities of color that disproportionately suffered the unjust consequences of our nation’s drug laws,” Lacey said. About 45% of the convictions being lifted were for Latinos and 32% for African-Americans.

Lacy said the dismissals go beyond the relief called for under Prop. 64 — the 2016 measure that legalized recreational marijuana — and a follow-on implementation law known as AB 1793, which required past pot cases to be dismissed or re-sentenced by July 1 of this year.

Rather than just reduce the charges from felonies to misdemeanors in accordance with the law, she said she requested dismissals of all the convictions.

YES, THIS COVERS FELONIES AND MISDEMEANORS

The requested dismissals include 62,000 felony cases filed in L.A. County since 1961. Lacey is also seeking dismissals of about 4,000 misdemeanor cannabis possession cases that were prosecuted by city attorney offices in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Torrance, Pasadena, Inglewood, Burbank, Santa Monica, Hawthorne, Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach.

Individuals have had the right to petition a court for their cases to be dismissed, but almost no one has because the process is cumbersome, costly and confusing.

A nonprofit group called Code for America worked with L.A. and four other counties to generate the list of potentially dismissable cases from data provided by the state Department of Justice. Statewide, software created by Code For America has identified 85,000 convictions that might be purged in L.A., San Francisco, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties.

These convictions should no longer burden those who have struggled to find a job or a place to live because of their criminal record,” Lacey said.

What we have faced in Los Angeles County was decades of draconian drug laws that had an incredibly disproportionate impact on minorities and in particular, African Americans,” said Public Defender Ricardo Garcia.

Clearing these convictions will help thousands of Angelenos move on with their lives and build a future free from the pain and suffering of a criminal conviction,” he said.

WHICH CRIMES ARE NOT BEING DISMISSED?

These types of cases are not eligible for dismissal: Cases in which people used children to sell pot, and those in which individuals created concentrated versions of cannabis by cooking down and processing marijuana.

The law doesn’t distinguish regarding the amount of pot, so someone convicted of possessing a joint would be treated the same as someone convicted of possessing a bale of marijuana.

Of course, if you were convicted of moving bales of marijuana, there were probably other charges as well, like conspiracy, money laundering and so on. Those other charges do not go away, only the pot-related ones.

People who were jailed on just pot-related charges have already been released in L.A. County, Lacey said.

HOW QUICKLY WILL CASES BE DISMISSED?

Assuming the judge grants the DA’s request, the recent cases will be processed most quickly, while the older cases dating back to the 60s and 70s could take a few months.

HERE’S HOW TO CHECK ON YOUR CASE

People with old cannabis convictions need not do anything to make their pot offenses go away. The dismissals, once approved by the court, are automatic.

The L.A. County Public Defender’s office has set up a hotline for people who want to verify that their cannabis-related convictions were indeed erased.

The number is (323) 760-6763.

“We expect to get a deluge of calls,” said Public Defender Ricardo Garcia. Callers will get a recording with instructions on how to confirm their marijuana violations were cleared from their record.

GO DEEPER:

Jackie Lacey’s April 1, 2019 announcement that she would seek to clear marijuana convictions