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San Diego plans to clear thousands of marijuana convictions

The state of California is undergoing a significant shift in its approach to drug prosecution. With Proposition 64 recently taking effect, a broad decriminalization of marijuana could foster a decline in non-violent drug convictions in the years to come. While this measure of decriminalization may have an eye toward the future, some have wondered what would become of the thousands who hold past convictions for acts that are now legal.

San Diego, for its part, is taking action to clear the records of previous offenders. The district attorney's office has already begun combing convictions in search of cases that qualify for reduction or expunction. For those whose lives have been hamstrung by a criminal record, this could be a momentous development.

The convictions that qualify

Though it wasn't a focal point of the ballot measure, Proposition 64 contained a provision that allows for the reassessment of certain marijuana convictions. This retroactive measure applies to some previous offenses that are now legal, including:

  • The acquisition, possession or transportation of up to 28.5 grams of marijuana-or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis-for adults over the age of 21. These individuals can also distribute in these amounts to other adults over 21 without compensation.
  • Smoking marijuana in a private residence where it's permissible.
  • The growth of up to six marijuana plants per residence, so long as they're not visible from a public space.

Aside from the decriminalization of the above acts, certain offenses that had been felonies-e.g., possession with intent to sell-are now misdemeanors. This is a major change, and in some cases, it could be the difference between incarceration and a lesser punishment.

Those who qualify can now petition to have their convictions dismissed or re-designated, though there are some exceptions. For instance, felons who have what California deems a "super strike" (a sexual or otherwise violent offense) are ineligible.

A tall order

Reassessing such a sizable volume of cases is no easy task. The San Diego County District Attorney's office has already found some 4,700 cases that are eligible for dismissal or re-designation-and that's only going back to 2002.

The DA's office is currently adjudicating cases in about a week, though they're also expediting certain petitions. According to officials, individuals whose housing or employment prospects are suffering can usually expect results within one day.

San Diego is also taking a proactive approach toward those whose convictions have placed them behind bars. The DA's office is trying to get out in front of a considerable number of cases, while other cities are handling petitions as they come in. Still, with so many current convictions in San Diego County, individuals who feel that theirs warrants a second look may benefit from consulting with an attorney.

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