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Why is California failing thousands of people with cannabis records?

Nearly five years after California voters legalized marijuana, potentially hundreds of thousands of residents still have publicly available cannabis-related criminal records that the law requires to be sealed—even though the state passed a bill to address this three years ago. While this continues, people’s cannabis convictions can still be searched by employers and police, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination and targeting.

Former Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1793 into law in September 2018. Known as the “Bonta bill,” after its lead sponsor (current Attorney General Rob Bonta), this created “automatic sealing” for cannabis criminal records. It required prosecutors in the state Department of Justice to review records dating back over 40 years, and was meant to provide justice for people who’d been arrested, convicted or sentenced on charges that would no longer apply post-legalization.

But the deadline for California to complete this sealing process—July 2020—passed over a year ago. And California residents, advocates and officials reached by Filter confirmed, to different degrees, that the state has failed to honor its promise to provide justice for people with cannabis records, who are disproportionately people of color. Disappointingly, even California government officials can’t give exact details on how many people are affected.

Expunging a record usually means it is permanently destroyed, while sealing—which is what California does—merely hides it from public view or from being searched. In either case, it’s an urgent need.

Having a criminal record makes it legal for employers, banks and schools, among others, to discriminate against you. There are over 44,000 different forms of sanctioned discrimination against people with records, in all areas of life. And the dangers are even greater for immigrants in the US; a simple drug possession violation can subject undocumented immigrants, and even legal permanent residents, to deportation.

In California, the legal non-medical cannabis market is already valued at $5 billion and growing fast. It is absurd that while businesses can sell cannabis as legally as an iPhone, people can still have their cannabis records searched when applying for a job.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Alexander Lekhtman on Filter Magazine

Published: October 14, 2021

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