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San Francisco To Wipe Thousands Of Marijuana Convictions Off The Books

This move will improve employment prospects for thousands of people.

An activist smiles during a march demanding the legalization of marijuana. Photo by Jose Cabezas / Getty Images.

America’s drug war has been a decades-long battle of the state versus people of color. While white Americans are more likely to abuse drugs, black men are sent to state prisons on drug charges at a rate 13 times more than white men. A drug offense is a permanent mark on a person’s record and can drastically hurt their chances of finding a job or obtaining government benefits.

In January of 2018, Proposition 64, a new law legalizing recreational marijuana took effect in the state of California. An overlooked aspect of the law allows people with past marijuana convictions to petition the court to have their cases dismissed. This law will have a huge impact on tens of thousands of Californians who’ve been denied employment or have been forced into less lucrative career paths due to their criminal history.

The law will have a positive impact on the black community in particular. According to the ACLU, black people are twice as likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than whites although they use the drug at the same rate.

The Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The city of San Francisco is going one step further by retroactively applying California’s marijuana-legalization laws to past criminal cases dating back to 1975. The city will expunge or reduce all marijuana cases without the need for anyone to petition the court.

“Instead of waiting for people to petition — for the community to come out — we have decided that we will do so ourselves,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced on Jan. 31. “We believe it is the right thing to do. We believe it is the just thing to do.”

In his statement, Gascón also declared that San Francisco will dismiss and seal more than 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions. It will also review and possibly re-sentence 4,940 felony marijuana cases.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, formerly San Francisco’s mayor, believes the city’s actions will open up new opportunities for its residents of color. He says the law brings “new hope and opportunities to Californians, primarily people of color, whose lives were long ago derailed by a costly, broken, and racially discriminatory system of marijuana criminalization.”

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