Leveraging Technology to Clear Cannabis Convictions

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion that called for taking advantage of innovative technology to accelerate the resentencing of minor cannabis convictions countywide.

“The war on drugs led to decades-long racial disparities in cannabis-related arrests and convictions,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion. “We have a responsibility to right these wrongs by utilizing the latest innovations in technology to ensure that people who have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs get the second chance they deserve.”

“This is an important step in the continuing effort to bring the benefits of resentencing for cannabis-related offenses to a larger population,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “The people who have been charged with these crimes are disproportionately people of color, and their record severely impacts their ability to access housing, education, employment, and other necessities for stability – all for convictions based on actions that the voters have declared are no longer crimes. By expanding resentencing efforts without requiring individuals to navigate the complicated legal process, we can make an immeasurable impact on the lives of many people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

Proposition 64, approved by voters in November 2016, allowed certain cannabis convictions to be reclassified and resentenced. Los Angeles County’s Office of Cannabis Management, in consultation with the District Attorney and Public Defender, estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people – if not more – are eligible for reclassification or resentencing. As of early 2018, however, fewer than 1,000 of those eligible for relief in the County have filed a petition.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas last year urged the Board to develop a countywide plan to facilitate the resentencing of minor cannabis convictions, similar to what the County did for other resentencing efforts like Prop 47. Since then, the Office of Cannabis Management, District Attorney and Public Defender have been developing strategies to reach more individuals with cannabis convictions, including utilizing technology. Today’s motion prioritizes those efforts.

“There’s no fairness in a system that doesn’t encourage second chances, and this motion seeks to remedy that,” said County Department of Business and Consumer Affairs Director Joseph Nicchitta, who oversees the Office of Cannabis Management. “There are potentially 60,000 or more eligible cases that could be dismissed, many in communities of color that distrust the criminal justice system. The County’s and the District Attorney’s efforts to use innovative technology to track and automate this process will maximize our existing efforts across the County and dramatically speed up a much needed fresh start for many.”

“When the law is broken, a person is automatically arrested. It’s imperative that the same energy of automation is used to expunge the records of more than 100,000 individuals,” said Ingrid Archie, a formerly incarcerated Prop 47 specialist and civic engagement coordinator with the nonprofit A New Way Of Life, who was the first person in California to petition for a felony reclassification after the passage of Prop 64. “Organizations such as A New Way of Life do the hard work of record clearing, but more is needed. Taking a proactive approach by using innovative technology to assist in record clearance is the next step in continuing to clean up the collateral damage from the war on drugs that still exists in our communities.”

The motion noted the nonprofit Code for America’s Clear My Record initiative has already helped the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office to identify more than 9,300 cases eligible for expungement, and encouraged LA County to pursue similar innovative strategies. Technology like this can evaluate thousands of convictions and automatically generate the proper court form within a few minutes.