After seven years since the passing of Proposition 64 by California voters in 2016, which legalized marijuana possession, cultivation, and sales, the courts in California are on the verge of resolving nearly all qualifying cannabis cases. As of April 6, 2023, California courts have either expunged, sealed, or resentenced 206,502 cases out of an estimated 227,650 cases.
Initially, Prop 64 allowed individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition for relief, and in 2018, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) made the clemency process more efficient by passing AB 1793. In 2022, Gov Newsom furthered the reform efforts with AB 1706, which required courts to address qualifying cases by March 1, 2023. The legislation also mandated progress reports on the implementation of the bill by the Department of Justice and the Judicial Council. The first report in January confirmed that 197,205 cases had been resentenced or dismissed. The second report in April, with 206,502 cases resolved, demonstrates the substantial progress made by the courts.
Jacob McMaster, the NORML State Policies Manager, commended the progress made by the California courts, stating, “California serves as an example of what prioritizing retroactive criminal justice reform after cannabis legalization can and should look like. When all three branches of government collaborate with a common goal, progress is achieved.”
Despite the progress at the state level, many counties in California have been slow in expunging marijuana convictions, lagging behind state law. Even before the passage of AB 1706, the Attorney General encouraged county prosecutors to expedite expungement efforts to relieve individuals with prior marijuana convictions of their legal burdens. Nonetheless, expungement efforts are steadily increasing in California, with only 9% of cannabis cases remaining unresolved.
All of this progress is happening amid a time of increased cannabis awareness and acceptance in California. Public support for legalization is now higher compared to 2016 when the original legislation was passed, and California lawmakers have approved marijuana cafes and allocated over $70 million for community reinvestment, research grants, and business licensing programs.