Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced a bill this month aimed at automatically expunging Californians past marijuana convictions.
California Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced legislation this month that would require county courts to automatically erase eligible records of marijuana convictions. The bill, AB 1793, proposes making it easier for those with past cannabis-related convictions to start anew in a state where adult use marijuana has been legal since November 2016.
“AB 1793 will give people the fresh start to which they are legally entitled and allow them to move on with their lives,” Bonta said in a statement. “The war on drugs unjustly and disproportionately targeted young people of color for enforcement and prosecution.
Past marijuana blemishes on one’s criminal record can inhibit job opportunities, housing approvals or voting. Clearing the records would allow those with past convictions to return to a normal life.
“Long after paying their debt to society, the collateral consequences of having a criminal conviction continues to disrupt their lives in profound ways such as preventing them from gaining employment or finding housing,” said Bonta.
Streamlining the Removal of Cannabis Convictions
Proposition 64, approved by California voters in 2016 to legalize recreational marijuana, already allows residents with prior marijuana convictions to petition the courts to have the offenses expunged for their records.
If convicted of marijuana possession crimes since eliminated with the passing of Proposition 64, people can petition to have those convictions expunged. They can also petition the court to reduce some crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Proposition AB 1793, however, would require that criminal convictions for marijuana-related offenses be automatically expunged rather than people having to initiative the process themselves. The additional costs and complexities of the court petition process places a greater burden on those facing financial hardships.
“Let’s be honest, navigating the legal system bureaucracy can be costly and time-consuming,” Bonta told reporters at the Capitol.
Additionally, it appears that many people with convictions are unaware that petitioning to have prior convictions expunged is an option.
As of September, 4,885 Californians have petitioned the courts to have marijuana convictions expunged or reclassified. Laura Thomas, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, estimates that there are actually over 100,000 people eligible to have their records changed under Proposition 64.
“The role of government should be to ease burdens and expedite the operation of law – not create unneeded obstacles, barriers and delay. [AB 1793] is a practical, common sense bill. These individuals are legally-entitled to expungement or reduction and a fresh start. It should be implemented without unnecessary delay or burden,” Bonta concluded in his statement.
The Drug Policy Alliance issued a statement supporting Bonta’s proposed legislation.
“DPA supports the goal of the bill, which is to increase the number of people cleaning their records of past marijuana convictions,” a statement from the organization said. “We will work with Assemblymember Bonta, committee, and the administration to pass legislation to that effect.”
Learn More about Marijuana Law
Under California’s marijuana law, individuals 21 years of age and older to legally possess and purchase up to 28.5 grams of marijuana, up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis, and to personally cultivate up to 6 plants. It became legal for licensed dispensaries to sell marijuana to adults January 1.
California, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, is one of eight U.S. states to legalize adult use cannabis.