South Bay college students and cannabis advocates on Wednesday pressured District Attorney Jeff Rosen to comply with a California law that clears the records of incarcerated individuals who have cannabis convictions.
Assembly Bill 1793, a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, requires district attorneys to review all existing marijuana conviction cases by July 1, 2020 with the goal of expunging or clearing records since recreational marijuana was legalized in California in 2016.
“Cannabis record clearance can better the lives of many people who are struggling in life with a job or housing because they were criminalized,” said San Jose State University student Aysha Pathan, who’s a member of the Students Against Mass Incarceration, the group who organized a news conference Wednesday. ”That stigma is still attached to them, despite cannabis legalization.”
The students said that the county’s district attorney’s office “has not made public the specific number of those eligible for felony reduction and misdemeanor expungement.” But Pathan estimates that up to 5,000 individuals are wrongfully convicted on marijuana charges, the majority of which unfairly target and discriminate against people of color.
“People of color are always targeted. It’s called ‘marijuana’ because it’s been historically meant to be associated with immigrants,” added Pathan. ”It’s definitely a race issue.”
But the District Attorney’s office says that expungement for these individuals is not such a simple task.
Assistant District Attorney David Angel told San José Spotlight that while the bill grants expungement opportunities, some cases could be subject to scrutiny and could be rendered ineligible. He noted that the legislation is “complicated.”
For example, a case that might be ineligible would likely involve a charge of endangering a minor while producing cannabis — this type of case would need further review from the DA’s office.
“In other words, the legislators could have said, ‘Everyone gets an expungement.’ Instead they said ‘Most people get an expungement, but there are some exceptions,'” said Angel.
Certain cases where these exceptions apply and other crimes are attached would make the process more tricky for the District Attorney’s office. Angel added that while the DA’s office does not have a specific number of those eligible for expungement, he hopes to get a “comprehensive list” of those with criminal records by this summer.
Other counties in California have complied with the law, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Joaquin, which have made efforts as part of Code for America’s “Clear My Record” project, a nonprofit service that helps formerly incarcerated individuals reduce or dismiss convictions.
According to the students, about 9,000 cases in San Francisco and nearly 54,000 cases in Los Angeles County have been cleared because of compliance.
The students on Wednesday were joined by supporters from the San Jose Cannabis Equity Working Group and Reverend Jeff Moore, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley branch of the NAACP, who insisted that the District Attorney’s efforts were not enough.
“Those in power here at the county refuse to act,” said Moore, directing his attention to Rosen. “Stop sitting in your office, in your comfortable chair saying that you’re going to do it. It only takes signing a piece of paper to get it done. You lack the will and the desire to help affect the lives of many young people causing them to stumble and fall further behind in this achievement gap in Santa Clara County.”
Daniel Montero, chair of the San Jose Cannabis Equity Working Group, added that mass expungement for individuals would promote a “diverse and inclusive cannabis industry” and help San Jose move toward progress.
“We’re not criminals, we’re far from that,” added Montero. “We can help position San Jose to be a leading city in California to enjoy maximum long-term economic benefit by giving our community a chance to participate in the regulated industry.”
The DA’s office doesn’t necessarily disagree. Angel said the office has discussed plans to handle the data once the Department of Justice distributes it.
“If they’re eligible, they would automatically have their record cleared,” added Angel. “We absolutely think that people who are entitled to having their record cleared should have their record cleared.”