San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced at the beginning of the year that his office would be dismissing or reducing thousands of marijuana convictions. To help with the swift execution of old records, the San Francisco DA will be teaming up with Code for America. The national nonprofit will speed the process up by using their algorithm written to dismiss old marijuana convictions.
Clearing Marijuana Convictions
“California has decriminalized recreational cannabis use, but a marijuana conviction continues to serve as a barrier to employment, housing, student loans and more,” Gascón said. “Until we clear these records it’s government that is effectively holding these people back and impeding public safety.”
Instead of forcing individuals to go to court and petition their past convictions on their own, the office will be reviewing all 3,038 misdemeanor and 4,390 felony marijuana convictions dating back to 1975. All motions to dismiss must be approved by the San Francisco Superior Court.
Since January, the San Francisco Superior Court has only granted 428 of 528 motions to dismiss misdemeanor marijuana convictions. Gascón’s office has the paperwork ready for another 434 misdemeanor convictions but the process for reviewing felony cases will require much more effort. Before a marijuana felony is reduced or dismissed, prosecutors must analyze criminal histories to determine whether a dismissal or reduction is allowed under state laws. The amount of resources required to complete the task has kept many District Attorney offices around the country from expunging past marijuana cases.
Partnership with Code for America
The San Francisco District Attorney’s office is teaming up with Code for America for help speeding up the reviewal process. Code for America is a nonprofit that aims to make the government work better in the digital age.
“We believe government can work dramatically better than it does today, and the criminal justice system is one of the areas where we are most failing the American people,” said the company’s Executive Director, Jennifer Pahlka.
Code for America’s algorithm will do the work for the District Attorney’s office as well as anyone planning to petition their past cannabis convictions in court. Once implemented, the algorithm will make it so that nobody will have to petition their own case in court. It will also handle the labor-intensive analyzing of criminal histories so San Francisco can start the process of clearing marijuana felony convictions.
The two main motives the DA’s office had for clearing convictions was recreational marijuana becoming legal and making up for the adverse impact the war on drugs has had on people of color sooner than later. Code for America also noted the impact on communities of color as a motive to clear as many marijuana convictions as possible.
According to the District Attorney’s office, Code for America intends to partner with a number of other California counties in the near future. Their goal is to have at least 250,000 convictions cleared by 2019. Other cities like Seattle could dismiss marijuana charges for over 500 people.