Seven years after California voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016, successfully legalizing marijuana possession, cultivation, and sales, the courts are finally nearly finished relieving all qualifying cannabis cases. As of April 6, 2023, California courts have expunged, sealed, or resentenced 206,502 cases out of an estimated 227,650.
Originally, Prop 64 allowed people with prior marijuana convictions to petition for relief, and in 2018, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) made a more efficient clemency process by passing AB 1793. In 2022, Gov Newsom furthered reform efforts with AB 1706, giving courts until March 1, 2023 to relieve qualifying cases. The bill also requires the Department of Justice and the Judicial Council to create progress reports on the legislation. According to the first report from January of this year, 197,205 cases had been resentenced or dismissed. The second report from April, revealing 206,502 cases relieved, displays the significant progress made by the courts.
Commenting on the progress made by the California courts, NORML State Policies Manager Jacob McMaster said “California is exemplary to what prioritizing retroactive criminal justice reform in the wake of cannabis legalization can, and should, look like. When all three branches of government come together with a common goal, progress is made.”
Many counties are still behind state law, moving slowly on expunging marijuana convictions. Even before the passage of AB 1706, the Attorney General encouraged county prosecutors to move quickly on expungement efforts so that individuals with prior marijuana convictions could be relieved of their legal burdens. Even with some counties moving slowly, efforts are steadily increasing in California, with only 9% of cannabis cases left to expunge or seal.
This comes at a time of heightened cannabis awareness and acceptance in California. Voter support for legalization is now higher than it was in 2016 with the original legalization legislation, and California lawmakers have approved marijuana cafes and provided over $70 million for community reinvestment, research grants, and business licensing programs.