San Francisco’s top law enforcement office will dismiss and seal more than 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions dating back to 1975, District Attorney George Gascón announced Wednesday.
The move comes roughly a year after California voters passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and older and allowed legal users to carry up to one ounce of cannabis. The law also allowed residents with past marijuana convictions to petition the state’s courts to recall or dismiss their cases.
But instead of leaving it up to individuals to make those petitions — a process that can cost hundreds of dollars in attorney fees — Gascón said in a press conference Wednesday that his office will review and wipe out convictions en masse, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The civic case for decriminalization is two-fold: It spares millions of dollars in police budgets and, more importantly, improves discriminatory policing. Marijuana use is roughly equal among black and white U.S. citizens, according to the ACLU, but blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for possession. In San Francisco, black residents were four times as likely as whites to be arrested for possession in 2013, according to the Chronicle.
Gascón was a vocal advocate for proposition 47, which reduced six nonviolent felonies — including drug possession — to misdemeanors, and was passed in 2014. In the three years since its passage, racial disparities between African Americans and white people in San Francisco’s criminal justice system have narrowed, according to a study Gascón commissioned that was released last week.
California isn’t the first state to apply marijuana legalization retroactively. In 2014, a Colorado appeals court ruled that certain pot-related criminal convictions could be overturned, and while that decision was limited, it helped set a precedent in determining how states review past drug convictions, DrugPolicy.org reported at the time.
Next on the books for states legalizing weed: Spread the wealth to communities that have historically been targeted by drug laws. Oakland’s Equity Permit Program, which carves out a path within the legalized cannabis industry for those who have been hurt by past enforcement policies, provides one good example.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.