US: Tens of thousands of old cannabis convictions to be automatically dismissed with new technology

US: Tens of thousands of old cannabis convictions to be automatically dismissed with new technology

Tens of thousands of convictions for cannabis possession could be dismissed or reduced automatically under a pioneering scheme launched by prosecutors in California.

District Attorneys Jackie Lacey of Los Angeles County and Tori Verber Salazar of San Joaquin County have jointly announced their participation in a pilot programme developed by Code for America, a non-profit aimed at helping the public and private sectors use technology more effectively.

Up to 200,000 cannabis-related convictions in California are eligible to be dismissed or reduced from felonies to misdemeanours after Californians voted in 2016 to back the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.

However, those with convictions have so far had to apply to remove the old convictions from their records, sometimes requiring the assistance of a lawyer in the process.

The new pilot scheme will see the two counties - estimated to have 54,000 eligible convictions between them - pro-actively identify convictions that qualify for resentencing or dismissal under the 2016 referendum.

An earlier trial of the technology in San Francisco led to more than 8,000 cannabis convictions being either dismissed or sealed.

District Attorney Lacey, the chief prosecutor for California’s most populous county, said: “As technology advances and the criminal justice system evolves, we as prosecutors must do our part to pursue innovative justice procedures on behalf of our constituents.

“This collaboration will improve people’s lives by erasing the mistakes of their past and hopefully lead them on a path to a better future. Helping to clear that path by reducing or dismissing cannabis convictions can result in someone securing a job or benefiting from other programs that may have been unavailable to them in the past. We are grateful to Code for America for bringing its technology to our office.”

Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America, added: “In the digital age, automatic record clearance is just common sense. Thanks to the leadership of District Attorneys Lacey and Salazar, we’ve shown how records clearance can and should be done everywhere.”

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