When cannabis became legal for adult recreational use at the start of 2018, a provision in the new law opened the door for individuals who were convicted of certain kinds of marijuana-related crimes in the past to petition to have their criminal records cleared. Actually taking the state up on that offer, however, remained expensive and complicated. Now, as of January 1, 2019, a follow-up law has gone into effect, aiming to make the process more accessible to Californians—and advocates say it will go a long way toward helping those individuals live free from the stigma of a drug arrest.
“A marijuana conviction, even for something as minor as possession for personal use, comes with lifelong collateral consequences that restrict access to employment, housing, education, and public benefits, and may result in children being separated from their parents and non-citizens being deported,” says Jolene Forman, a senior staff attorney with Drug Policy Alliance.
Her organization was among those that supported the new law, AB-1793, which was put forward by Oakland-area assemblymember Rob Bonta and signed by Jerry Brown last October. Bonta proposed the measure to help address the fact that so few of the people who were able to have their records expunged or reduced were exercising the option.
“The majority of eligible individuals have not gone through the process of petitioning the courts,” Bonta says. “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.” Read more