Christian Reichert is Released After Serving Over 8 Years of 23-Year Cannabis Sentence

It’s Justice by Geography Once Again for Individuals with Cannabis Records in California

By Frank Stiefel

07 Feb, 2024

After Proposition 64 was passed in 2016, individuals with low-level cannabis records became eligible to have their cannabis records sealed. The legislature attempted to further expedite record clearance relief by passing AB 1793, which aimed to ensure individuals would not have to petition the court to get their eligible cannabis-related records sealed. Instead, it would be the responsibility of local and state agencies to initiate the record clearance process for those with low-level cannabis records. The bill was a nation-leading step in cannabis and criminal justice reform and has since been modeled in several states. Unfortunately, the implementation of AB 1793 was inconsistent across the state and tens of thousands of people did not end up receiving the relief they were due. In an effort to resolve these unacceptable implementation delays, Assemblymember Bonta worked with LPP to sponsor AB 1706 in 2022. The legislation provided clear deadlines and guidance for the agencies charged with sealing eligible records from individuals’ criminal histories. It also added oversight and progress reporting to ensure that bureaucratic delays and lack of transparency no longer barred deserving individuals from relief. AB 1706 sailed through the legislature with overwhelming support, was signed into law by Governor Newsom, and came into effect at the start of 2023. This month marks the one-year anniversary of AB 1706 coming into effect in California and we are happy to see that over 50% of eligible records have been sealed! However, there are still over thirteen thousand people that need to receive record clearance relief and when looking closer at the data that has been provided by the Department of Justice (DOJ) there are numerous concerns that arise. Our primary concern is that there still seems to be an issue with justice by geography as it relates to counties providing record clearance relief. This is the exact same problem that led to Assemblymember Bonta introducing AB 1706 in the first place. One of the most egregious counties is Marin County, which has not sealed A SINGLE eligible cannabis record over the course of this past year. In Imperial County, we found that only 6 people out of an eligible 1,473 have had their cannabis records sealed in 2023. Finally, in San Joaquin and Trinity counties, only 59 people out of an eligible 1,734 have received record clearance relief this past year. Our second concern is related to the high percentage of cannabis records that are eligible for sealment and have been challenged by prosecutors in various counties. The DOJ, in their reports on the implementation status of AB 1706, has not indicated what has happened with these cannabis records that have been challenged by prosecutors. Our only assumption can be that these records, which were challenged by prosecutors, have now been deemed ineligible for sealment. This means that in Fresno, Kern, Napa, and Sutter counties, anywhere from five to seven percent of eligible records that were challenged by prosecutors have now been deemed ineligible. This would also mean that in Madera County, over 10% of eligible records that were challenged by prosecutors have been deemed ineligible. Lastly, there is little to no information on the scope of the public awareness campaign that the DOJ was tasked with undertaking. In their report from December , the DOJ said they hosted webinars with “36 individuals from 18 agencies, which included public defenders, district attorneys, and court staff.” This cannot be considered a public awareness campaign. There are numerous ways to educate the public about their newly sealed record (e.g., billboards, social media pages, educational webinars, meetings/presentations with community-based groups, etc.) and it does not appear as though any of these options have been explored. We hope that the DOJ will take these concerns seriously and ensure that Californians entitled to cannabis record sealing under existing law finally receive relief. The county that you live in shouldn’t dictate whether or not the law applies to you. LPP will continue to monitor the implementation of AB 1706 to make sure that California finally makes good on its overdue promise to allow individuals criminalized by prohibition to move on with their lives.

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