California courts have sealed, resentenced or dismissed about 90 percent of eligible marijuana convictions for activity that was legalized under a 2016 voter-approved initiative, a new report from the state attorney general’s office shows.
As of April 6, the state’s judicial system has processed relief for 206,052 of out an estimated 227,650 cannabis cases that were identified as eligible following the passage of records reform legislation that the governor signed in 2018.
The new report, released last month by Attorney General Rob Bonta’s (D) office, shows that most counties across the state have made significant progress since being given the directive.
When voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016, it legalized marijuana possession, cultivation and sales, while providing an option for people with prior cannabis convictions to petition the courts for relief. Two years later, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed AB 1793, which created a process to automate clemency.
Then, the governor signed separate legislation, AB 1706, last year that built upon the state’s record sealing law by giving courts until March 1, 2023 to seal records for qualifying marijuana cases that weren’t challenged by July 1, 2020. The bill, which was sponsored by the attorney general’s wife, who serves in the state Assembly, also required the California Department of Justice to work with the Judicial Council of California to produce quarterly joint progress reports to the legislature.
“Some counties aren’t making much progress, notably Alameda, Amador, Marin and Trinity,” California NORML said in a blog post on Wednesday. “Marked progress was seen in El Dorado, Humboldt, Kern, Madera, Napa, Riverside, Sacramento and Sutter counties, with small gains in other counties. Imperial County brings up the rear with only 7.9 percent compliance, clearing only 258 of its potential 1,767 convictions.”
Prior to the enactment of AB 1706, the attorney general in 2021 urged prosecuting attorneys throughout the state to expedite their overdue processing of past marijuana convictions in order to allow eligible individuals to have their sentences reduced or removed and past records sealed from public view.
Meanwhile, a poll published last week found that Californians’ supports for legalizing marijuana is now even higher than when they approved the reform at the ballot in 2016—and a solid majority of voters also want cannabis retailers to be operating in their own neighborhoods.
Separately, a California Assembly committee recently approved a Senate-passed bill to legalize marijuana cafes, allowing dispensaries to offer non-cannabis food and drinks at their location if they receive local approval. The measure is largely consistent with a separate proposal to authorize cannabis cafes that passed on the Assembly floor earlier this session.
Also, state marijuana regulators announced last month that they have awarded $4.1 million to cities and counties across the state to support local cannabis business licensing programs working to address unmet consumer demand and help curb the illicit market.
The California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) separately announced in May that the state has awarded more than $50 million in marijuana tax-funded community reinvestment grants.
DCC also recently awarded nearly $20 million in research grants, funded by marijuana tax revenue, to 16 academic institutions to carry out studies into cannabis—including novel cannabinoids like delta-8 THC and the genetics of “legacy” strains from the state.
California is additionally making moves to expand its marijuana market beyond the state’s borders, with regulators seeking a formal opinion from the state attorney general’s office on whether allowing interstate marijuana commerce would put the state at “significant risk” of federal enforcement action.
The request for guidance from DCC is a key step that could eventually trigger a law that the governor signed last year, empowering him to enter into agreements with other legal states to import and export marijuana products.