California courts will face a deadline to implement overturns of previous cannabis-related convictions under a bill introduced in the state assembly on Wednesday.
Legislation sponsored by State Assemblyman Mia Ponta will require courts to update case files for marijuana-related convictions and forward them to the California Department of Justice by January 1, 2023, according to a report in Los Angeles Times. The state Department of Justice will then be required to use information from the courts to update its records by July 1, 2023.
“California made a promise. I am focused on making sure California delivers on its promises,” He said Punta. “This bill would allow us to automatically shut down eligible criminal records for cannabis.”
Proposition 64, the landmark 2016 voter initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in California, included provisions to implement write-offs for convictions for cannabis-related offenses that are no longer illegal under state law. More legislation Passed in 2018 requires the state to take the lead in removing previous marijuana convictions.
But the Los Angeles Times An investigation revealed earlier this month that courts had yet to process records for at least 34,000 cases. Under the Punta bill, the state’s Department of Justice will be directed to update records if prosecutors or courts fail to meet their deadlines.
“By default, the registry will be sealed if the case qualifies,” Ponta said. “There are 34,000 people in California… who are unable to truly and fully live their lives because there has been a failure to fully implement the law.”
No erasing progress in some counties
Some provinces, including Los Angeles And Santa Clara Provinces have made significant progress in removing previous cannabis convictions. But the investigation found that some counties have not yet fully processed any cases that qualify for delisting, including Riverside County, where 21,000 cases are awaiting action. Another 5,400 cases were not settled in San Bernardino County. The delay comes despite the counties receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds earmarked for processing records.
“The court has begun work on these cases and, if resources permit, it intends to complete the work by July 1, 2022,” San Bernardino Supreme Court spokeswoman Julie Van Hook said.
The Ponta bill also requires the Judicial Council to collect data on the deletion of cannabis convictions and to provide regular public reports on the state’s progress. Additionally, the legislation requires the state’s Department of Justice to lead a public awareness campaign to inform those affected that their records have been erased and they no longer have to disclose their prior convictions. The procedure also expands the eligibility for write-off to include certain conspiracy convictions where prosecutors have the discretion to charge a crime as a felony or misdemeanor.
Ponta said removing previous convictions for cannabis-related offenses is necessary to address the harm and racial inequality caused by the cannabis ban.
“The war on drugs has targeted black people, people of color, especially,” Ponta said. “[The bill] It is somewhat of a form of algebra.”
Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender Nick Stewart Otten, a board member of the California Public Defenders Association, praised the legislation Ponta proposed.
“For decades, the justice system has swiftly and zealously destroyed the lives of men, women, and children accused of nonviolent marijuana offenses — this bill simply requires that the system act with the same enthusiasm and speed when bringing back the lives of former convicts,” Stewart said in a statement.
Legislation is also supported by Another prisoner project, a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for the release of all people imprisoned for cannabis offenses. Gracie Burger, the group’s director of state policy, said in a statement that the Ponta bill “will ensure that California delivers on its overdue promise to those affected by the war on drugs.”
So far, no groups have voiced their opposition to the legislation. Riverside Supreme Court spokeswoman Marietta Ford wrote in an email that “the court really has no comment on the pending legislation but if it does pass, we will of course ensure compliance.”