San Francisco recently became the first city in California to successfully expunge prior cannabis convictions, with help from a tech-focused charitable organization called Code for America.
The office of the district attorney for the city of San Francisco successfully expunged 9,362 cannabis convictions dating all the way back to 1975, according to a report from NPR. Both felony and misdemeanor cannabis convictions were expunged, which is a significant achievement – especially considering how we tend to see only misdemeanors get expunged.
Programmers that make up the 501-C called Code for America aided San Francisco in the process of expunging the cannabis convictions. According to their website, Code for America was founded in 2009 to address the widening gap between the public and private sectors in their effective use of technology and design. The organization works with citizens and local government to solve community problems.
There are many cities across the state of California – and the entire U.S. – that are currently working towards expunging prior cannabis convictions, but San Francisco is now officially the first to do so. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón expressed his views on the harsh realities of the drug war, specifically the war on cannabis and how difficult it can be to convince a court to expunge prior convictions.
“You have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing. It’s a very expensive and very cumbersome process. And the reality is that the majority of the people that were punished and were the ones that suffered in this war on marijuana, war on drugs nationally, were people that can ill afford to pay an attorney,” Gascón told NPR.
A state law was passed in 2018 that says all cannabis cases eligible to be expunged should be cleared by 2020. Up until this point, only 1,200 prior cannabis convictions were successfully expunged manually, but Code for America did excellent work to write the necessary code required to address all 9,000+ cases. There are still numerous cases of cannabis convictions throughout the state, but now the groundwork for the necessary digital tools has been laid out.
This is a great first step in the right direction, and hopefully we see more cities and states take San Francisco’s lead. Now that the digital blueprint has been made by Code for America, we should see other states follow suit. If cannabis is legal in a state, there’s no reason why prior convictions should remain on the books.