San Francisco to Throw Out Marijuana Convictions

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA at sunset.

As we previously reported, recreational marijuana became legal in the state of California on January 1st.  And now in an unprecedented move, the city of San Francisco will throw out all marijuana related misdemeanors dating back to 1975.

There are 8 states where recreational marijuana is legal and there are few cities that have adopted such actions as San Francisco.  After California legalized marijuana, San Francisco became the first city to automatically apply the new laws to cases dating back to the 1970s.  As of January 1st when the drug was legalized recreationally, people with misdemeanor violations could petition the court to have their records sealed which, would cost them a fee to do.  The district attorney in San Francisco noticed that very few people were taking advantage of this and decided to make a huge change. Misdemeanor marijuana cases will now be automatically thrown out and sealed with no cost or action required from those who currently have misdemeanor marijuana violations.  It’s estimated that more than 3,000 cases will be thrown out and sealed, all of the cases dating from back when marijuana was illegal.  The prosecutor says they will also examine another 5,000 felony cases as well and reduce those to misdemeanors if the person does not have another violent conviction on their record (such as murder).

Previously in California, possessing one ounce of marijuana would result in a misdemeanor.  Now, possessing up to an ounce of marijuana is completely legal and people do it every day. But, those people with records are still being punished and the new protocol could change the lives of many people with these convictions.  Marijuana offenses are non-violent drug offenses and can hold someone back from being hired; employers can refuse to hire someone who has checked the box regarding a misdemeanor and/or felony conviction. A person can also be denied housing benefits and college loans if they have this sort of conviction so, erasing them could be a second chance for many.  The cost of having your record sealed is can also be off-putting as well, which is a main reason for prosecutors automatically throwing out the cases.

Many states have adopted new laws on marijuana, but San Francisco is the only city to automatically expunge records and offer relief of this type.   A few months ago, the Nevada Governor vetoed a bill that would vacate the sentences of people convicted of marijuana misdemeanors.  Some other cities have adopted policies that allow for the person to petition the court to seal their records but none have an automatic process like San Francisco now does.   The actions of San Francisco could cause a ripple effect throughout California and we could potentially see this becoming the normal process for states where the drug is now legalized.

This is a huge step in the right direction in terms of relief for persons convicted of marijuana offenses in states where the drug is now legal.  People were still being penalized for marijuana records even though the drug was legalized.  We’ll stay up to date on any marijuana law changes so make sure to check back here for updates.


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