When California voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016, they voted to correct a major injustice wrought by the failed war on drugs. In approving Proposition 64, California voted in favor of a provision permitting expungement of previous convictions for cannabis offenses. This provision was included in Proposition 64 to address the disparate impact that the war on drugs has had on communities of color, but the provision requires that those convicted of cannabis offenses affirmatively petition courts for the expungement. With fewer than 10% of the nearly half-a-million Californians who were arrested for cannabis offenses between 2006 and 2015 having actually made this affirmative petition, clearly there is more government could be doing.
On the heels of Assemblyman Rob Bonta’s (D-Oakland) recently-introduced bill to require courts to automatically expunge these convictions, prosecutors in San Francisco and San Diego have stepped up and taken it upon themselves to review convictions going back decades for expungement. And it looks like these California prosecutors have started a trend, with Seattle following San Francisco’s lead, and lawmakers in Vermont considering a proposal to make expungement easier. As Oregon, Maryland, and Colorado – like California – allow those convicted of certain cannabis offenses to have these convictions sealed or expunged, we can hope to see similar movement in the right direction to make the process easier for the communities the failed war on drugs has injured.