California Bill Would Ease Erasure of Cannabis Convictions

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A Democratic lawmaker wants to make it easier for Californians with cannabis convictions to reduce or erase their records as the state moves into the next phase of legalized cannabis.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, introduced legislation on Tuesday that would require county courts to automatically expunge eligible records. It’s one of several efforts to build on the choice California voters’ made to legalize cannabis despite fresh threats from the federal government.

Voters approved the ability to wipe criminal cannabis conviction records in 2016 as part of Proposition 64, which legalized cannabis and retroactively erased and reduced some cannabis-related criminal penalties from felonies to misdemeanors.

Existing law requires people with convictions to initiate the process themselves. But many people don’t, either because they’re unaware it’s an option or because it can be complicated and costly. As of September 2017, around 5,000 people had applied for a change to their records, according to state data. That’s a fraction of the people that experts estimate are eligible.

The bill would “give folks who deserve it under the law the fresh start they’re entitled to,” Bonta said, adding that cannabis convictions have disproportionality affected young minorities.