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California lawmaker wants to make it easier to clear marijuana convictions from criminal records

Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) has proposed a way to expedite the clearing of records of marijuana convictions. (Alexis Cuarezma / For The Times)
Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) has proposed a way to expedite the clearing of records of marijuana convictions. (Alexis Cuarezma / For The Times)

Proposition 64, approved by California voters in 2016 to legalize recreational pot use, allows people to petition the courts to have past convictions for marijuana offenses expunged from their records. But the process can be difficult and expensive, according to supporters of pot legalization.

In response, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) on Tuesday proposed legislation that would make it easier to have criminal convictions removed from the records of marijuana users, potentially opening more doors to employment and housing.

Rather than require people to petition the courts for a determination, AB 1793 would require criminal convictions for marijuana-related offenses to be automatically expunged, placing the burden on the courts, Bonta said.

“Let’s be honest, navigating the legal system bureaucracy can be costly and time-consuming,” the lawmaker told reporters at the Capitol. His bill, he said, “will give people the fresh start to which they are legally entitled and allow them to move on with their lives.”

Proposition 64 legalizes, among other things, the possession and purchase of up to an ounce of marijuana and allows individuals to grow up to six plants for personal use. The measure also allows people convicted of marijuana possession crimes eliminated by Proposition 64 to petition the court to have those convictions expunged from their records as long as the person does not pose a risk to public safety.

They can also petition the court to reduce some crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor, including possession of more than an ounce of marijuana by a person who is 18 or older.

As of September, 4,885 Californians have petitioned the courts to have marijuana convictions expunged or reclassified, but many people don’t know about the process, which can be difficult, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported Proposition 64.

Bonta’s bill was supported Tuesday by alliance state director Laura Thomas and Dale Gieringer, who is the state coordinator of California NORML, another legalization group.

The bill, Thomas said, “will help to expedite the ability of people to achieve the promise of restorative justice.”

Bonta predicted other bills will be introduced this year to address problems identified since the state began issuing licenses to grow and sell marijuana on Jan. 1. He said measures to make it easier for marijuana businesses to pay taxes in cash and to protect medical marijuana patients in the workplace are expected.

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