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Gov. Brown signs law removing past cannabis convictions from Californians records

One of the major marijuana bills which Gov. Jerry Brown’s signed recently at the close of the legislative session is AB 1793 which allows adults convicted of cannabis-related offenses that meet certain criteria to have these offenses removed from their record.

And although the governor received over one hundred pieces of legislation from California’s elected officials that dealt with cannabis in some way — some tackled the issue of taxation, while other bills addressed medicinal marijuana use on school campuses —this may be the most significant.

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“AB 1793 will bring people closer to realizing their existing rights by creating a simpler pathway for Californians to turn the page and make a fresh start,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta in a statement. “Long after paying their debt to society, people shouldn’t continue to face the collateral consequences, like being denied a job or housing, because they have an outdated conviction on their records. I thank Governor Brown for signing this important bill.”

Gov. Jerry Brown/ California Air Resources Board

What AB 1793 means to the people of California

AB 1793 (Bonta), now California Chapter 993 which adds to the California Health and Safety Code, expedites the identification, review, and notification of individuals who might be eligible for the dismissal, dismissal, and sealing, or redesignation of specified cannabis-related convictions.

Here is the key clarification for those that don’t speak legalese: Individuals with cannabis convictions must be the ones to file the petition to have their records expunged. The courts will not be doing it for you. It’s a four-step process to having a clean record.

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“The majority of eligible individuals have not gone through the process of petitioning the courts,” said Bonta. “Many people are unaware of this opportunity to change their records, but even for those who know their rights, navigating the legal system’s bureaucracies can be confusing, costly and time-consuming.”

Once a person previously convicted of a cannabis-related crime files a petition to have their expedition expunged, the court will conduct a requisite screening for eligibility for expungement.

The third step is that the court will hold something called a “qualification hearing” where the merits of the person applying are considered. Here they determine if the person’s record indicates whether or not they have conducted similar crimes on a recurring basis. The fourth and final step is resentencing by the court.

This new California Health and Safety Code requires the California Department of Justice to review records in the state summary criminal history information database and identify past convictions that are eligible for expungement (legalese: recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal, and sealing, or redesignation) on or before July 1, 2019.

Additionally, the DOJ must notify the prosecution of all cases in their jurisdiction that are eligible for this four-step process. State prosecution offices have until July 2020 to review these cases and determine whether to challenge the expungement of these records.

A small price to pay for freedom

The Senate Appropriations Committee determined that there will be a one-time state General Fund cost of anywhere between $5 million to $25 million, depending on how many cases local prosecution offices object to the decriminalization of cannabis.

The California Department of Justice reported a workload cost of $637,000 in the 2018-19 fiscal year, $1.3 million in FY 2019-20, and $950,000 in FY 2020-21 in General Funds to implement this program.

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The Department of Finance will make its recommendations early next year as to the DOJ’s budget. California’s newly elected governor will have to determine how best to implement this piece of legislation.

As for the cost to local municipalities for District Attornies and public defenders? If the DOF used a Magic 8-Ball to answer this question, the answer would be: “Ask again later.” Unfortunately, the cost to local municipalities is unknown due to local funding formulations.

Each local district will have to aggregate and dispense information, review cases for eligibility, and then file any requisite objections within the required timeline for the prosecution (2020). While the Senate Appropriations Committee determined that these costs could be eligible for reimbursement by the state, but that would be left to the judgment of the Commission on State Mandates.

In the meantime, California’s cannabis users, both past and present, can breathe a sigh of relief. They are one step closer to a possible crime-free record.

“Clearing or reducing past convictions is a difficult process to navigate, particularly for low-income people and individuals living in rural regions of the state,” said Rodney Holcombe of the Office of Legal Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance in a statement put out by Bonta’s office. “AB 1793 lifts a tremendous burden from the shoulders of thousands by making this process automatic for past marijuana convictions. We hope that this will be the first of many victories needed to rid people of the thousands of restrictions attached to past criminal convictions.”

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