Creating jobs and generating revenue garner most of the media headlines, but the most important aspect of legalizing cannabis is simply freedom. A war has been waged upon nonviolent cannabis consumers, a war that has cost too many resources and needlessly ruined lives. Ending criminal penalties against those that choose to consume marijuana is the foundation of the legalization movement. Expunging old cannabis convictions, righting a wrong caused by an unjust war, is building upon that foundation, and San Francisco and San Diego are doing the just thing by clearing people’s records proactively.
As the International Cannabis Business Conference heads to San Francisco, I look forward to working with advocates on putting pressure on the rest of the state to follow the lead of the district attorneys of San Francisco and San Diego, who have rightly decided to correct past injustices without people having to unnecessarily file paperwork and pay fees to clear their records of actions that are no longer illegal under state law. In Oregon, we managed to pass an expungement provision following legalization, but Golden State activists led the way in including a provision that includes expungement directly into their marijuana legalization law, but not every locality is being as progressive as they should, so there is more work to be done, as The New York Times explains:
Even in California, there is significant variation in how counties are handling misdemeanor marijuana convictions. Some, like Fresno County, are dealing with them on a case-by-case basis, said Steve E. Wright, the county’s assistant district attorney. Jeff Rosen, district attorney of Santa Clara County, said he was working with the local public defender’s office to identify cases. And prosecutors in San Francisco and San Diego have been more proactive, with both cities planning to automatically dismiss misdemeanor convictions and to reduce felony convictions to misdemeanors.
In San Francisco, (District Attorney George) Gascón said he wanted to avoid putting people through a process that he said violates the spirit of legalization.
“A lot of people don’t even know they qualify, and I don’t think it’s the right thing to do to make people pay lawyers’ fees and jump through a bunch of hoops to get something they should be getting anyway,” he said.
The criminal justice system can often be a Kafkaesque nightmare for many people, as they find their lives severely burdened by even the most minor charge. With marijuana, even a simple possession conviction can prevent people from obtaining a good job or securing the financial aid needed to attend college. In fact, one of the most absurd policies of federal cannabis prohibition is that those convicted of state or federal marijuana possession offenses don’t qualify for federal financial aid, while murderers and rapists still do.
The International Cannabis Business Conference, while it is certainly designed to help entrepreneurs and businesses make money, always maintains a focus on activism and remembering why we have worked to end cannabis prohibition in the first place-to legalize freedom, so people don’t get arrested, go to prison, or suffer unnecessary governmental punishments for choosing to utilize a substance safer than both alcohol and tobacco. While it is an exciting time for the California cannabis industry, with legalized sales just a month old, it is even more thrilling to see wrongs of the Drug War corrected and people lose a Scarlet Letter that has been wrongly hung around their necks. I look forward to seeing localities across California follow the great example set by the district attorneys of San Francisco and San Diego and this common-sense practice being carried out state by state, nation by nation.