The Sacramento District Attorney’s office has filed dismissal requests for nearly 2,000 cannabis-related convictions and wants to reduce more than 3,000 felonies to misdemeanors.
Assistant Chief Deputy DA Rob Gold, says the move is part of a new state law that requires review of convictions that occurred before cannabis became legal for public consumption.
“People who sold marijuana to another person, cultivated marijuana or those who possessed marijuana for the purpose of sales: Those were all felonies prior to the passage of Prop. 64,” Gold said. “The law identified which crimes qualified and the relief they were entitled to."
Gold says the DA's office met with community groups and went beyond the minimum requirements under state law for sentence review. Also recommended for reduction or expungement: cases in which the conviction was the only one on a person's record, if the person hasn't committed a crime in 10 years, or if the person convicted was under 21.
Nia MooreWeathers, a community organizer with the group Youth Forward, says 44 percent of cannabis convictions in Sacramento have been African-Americans, which helped to continue a cycle of poverty.
"This is going to allow these people to pursue jobs,” she said of the DA’s dismissals. “This is going to allow these people to pursue housing. It's also going to allow these people to economically provide for their families and be functioning members of their community."
MooreWeathers says it’s difficult for a person to rise above a run-in with the law. “This opportunity allows them not just to improve their lives in an immediate way by having a job and getting off of the streets, but also by impacting their personal lives, as well,” she said.
Youth Forward emphasises that its support of sentence reduction is societal and economical, but it does not endorse use of the drug by children, adolescents or pregnant women.
The DA’s office says if a felony is dismissed, record of it will be sealed. If the sentence is reduced, it will still appear as a felony, but one that was reduced to a misdemeanor under the health and safety code. The office wants to dismiss 1,919 convictions and reduce 3,384 felonies.
Before the passage of Assembly Bill 1793 in 2018, people were required to apply to the court to have sentences reduced or dismissed. Now, it’s up to the district attorneys offices, using data provided by the Department of Justice.
"We have provided the list of the convictions and what relief we believe they're entitled to. We've also given the list to the public defender's office. Now, it's just up to the court to have their staff actually make the changes and notify the Department of Justice," Gold said.
Sacramento and four other counties are part of a pilot project with a group called Code For America, which created the computer program used to help district attorneys and the courts identify cases that qualify.
“We see the criminal justice system as a way government is failing people the most,” said Alia Toran-Burrell, a senior program manager of Code For America. “We think the government can work better than it does.”
The organization donated its time and resources for purpose of the pilot project, but may begin charging district attorneys offices. Searches for qualifying cases take “a couple of minutes,” according to Toran-Burrell.
Code For America’s pilot program also included San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Joaquin counties. The organization plans to provide its service, perhaps on a pay-basis, for cannabis-related convictions and other types of cases in other cities and counties across the country.