Article – Governing Magazine: California Promised to Clear Cannabis Convictions. It Hasn’t.

Governing magazine have hit the nail squarely on its head…

The state legalized the use of recreational marijuana in 2016 and agreed to create a pathway to clear or reduce past weed-related convictions. At least 34,000 marijuana records have still not been processed by court.

But despite a 2018 law intended to speed up and automate the process, tens of thousands of Californians like Rodriguez are still stuck with felonies, misdemeanors and other convictions on their records, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.

At least 34,000 marijuana records still have not been fully processed by the courts, according to an analysis of data provided by court officials throughout the state. The number was more than twice that in August, before The Times began questioning the slow processing times.

The delays in clearing drug charges can have dire consequences for those seeking employment, professional licensing, housing, loans and in other instances in which background checks are required.

The courts have emerged as the primary bottleneck in a process that has entangled the state Department of Justice and prosecutors’ offices in 58 counties. Although a number of counties have moved aggressively to clear records, many others have moved at a snail’s pace. Some courts — including in Riverside and San Bernardino, where Rodriguez was convicted — haven’t fully processed a single case.

Court officials blamed a combination of factors for delays, including COVID-19, staffing shortages, outdated case management systems, old records that require manual review and technical issues.

San Bernardino County Superior Court “was severely impacted by COVID-19 with being partially closed for 75 days, and experienced staffing shortages, illnesses and quarantining, along with severe budget reductions,” spokeswoman Julie Van Hook wrote in an email.

But many advocates see the delays as a continuation of a long pattern of failing to address the disparate impact of drug policies on people of color, especially for Black Californians, who for decades have had the highest arrest rates in the state.

“When it’s an issue that is largely impacting Black people, we move slowly on getting things done,” said Eliana Green, an attorney at the Hood Incubator, which advocates for racial and economic equity in the cannabis industry.

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, who authored the law to clear criminal records while he served in the state Legislature, acknowledged problems with its implementation.

“It’s not acceptable. It’s taking too long,” Bonta told The Times in an interview.

Read more. https://www.governing.com/now/california-promised-to-clear-cannabis-convictions-it-hasnt

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