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Sonoma County DA to expunge prior cannabis convictions

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
March 23, 2018

Earlier this month the Sonoma County District Attorney, Jill Ravitch announced that the DA’s office will take on an ongoing effort to expunge or initiate reduction proceedings for possession of cannabis related crimes following the passing of the Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, making the popular drug legal in California.

The announcement came March 5 from the DA’s office and is an important notice, as the policy for dismissing cannabis-related convictions is going to change. Back in November of 2016, voters passed the cannabis act, also known as Proposition 64. Along with the legalization of the drug, the act also established protocols for dismissing, redesignating and sealing prior convictions for various cannabis related health and safety codes.

The DA’s office then quickly implemented a process, “to assist those affected by this change with reducing, dismissing and sealing their prior marijuana convictions,” according to the press release. And with this process in place, the DA’s office has so far reduced and or dismissed dozens of convictions.

However, now the DA’s office is taking a more proactive approach to repealing convictions and has tasked a deputy district attorney from their narcotics division to work on processing the petitions for repeal.

District Attorney Ravitch’s special unit will search for cases, where appropriate, that will be able to be expunged or start with conviction reduction proceedings. According to the same press release, there are still upwards of 3,000 prior convictions throughout the county.

“With Proposition 64 California voters clearly indicated their intent to offer people convicted of of cannabis related offenses to have their records cleared… Therefore, my goal is to do whatever I can within the resources at my disposal to be consistent with this intent,” Ravitch said in a statement. “As a result, my office has actively started to search for and review prior cannabis-related convictions that are eligible.”

Ravitch said the office is also willing to work with individuals’ attorneys in order to process the expungement applications.

According to a Rohnert Park Public Safety department head briefing of part I and II crimes, 2017 saw 495 cases of drug/narcotics and related equipment crimes, a 16 percent drop from 2016.

“Drug narcotics and equipment had the largest incident decline with 94 fewer incidents,” the report stated.

The DA’s office will remain busy with the large amount of prior convictions. And local cannabis consultant 421 Group President Craig Litwin said they too will do their part to try and expunge as many prior convictions with this hot-button item of cannabis.

“We’ll do our part to help the district attorney actively expunge cannabis convictions in order for that process to be faster for citizens and less expensive for the county,” Litwin said.

Other Bay Area counties have also followed suit to work on erasing prior cannabis convictions. San Francisco County announced in late January that they too would be throwing out thousands of prior misdemeanors. According to ABC 7 News, around 8,000 people in San Francisco have been slapped with a misdemeanor since 1975.

Ravitch’s decision to follow in San Francisco and San Diego County’s footsteps in expunging marijuana misdemeanors comes after her initial decision in February to stick with self-expunging, where an individual must file their own application to be reviewed by the DA’s office. 

One local lawyer, Omar Figueroa said of the policy change, “...My office looks forward to working in conjunction with DA Ravitch to get the word out about this progressive policy.”