San Diego

City Attorney Dismissing Thousands of Pot Convictions as Deadline Approaches

If getting busted with less than an ounce of marijuana is no longer a crime in California, should you still have to live with the consequences of getting caught when it was illegal?

State lawmakers say no, you should not.

Now the clock is ticking for prosecutors to review thousands of old convictions, and give those defendants a clean slate.

Before a crowd of reporters Wednesday morning, City Attorney Mara Elliot announced her office reversed 30 low-level drug convictions – just the first batch in what she expects will be thousands of dismissals.

"Well it's a good thing,” says Bishop Cornelius Bowser, community activist and pastor of Charity Apostolic Church in Logan Heights. “But what took so long?"

Bowser is quick to point out it's been a year and a half since California voters passed Proposition 64 - legalizing marijuana.

"We know that black people have been highly impacted by this,” says Bowser. “And it's not because black people do more drugs, but because they're more of a target and over-policing of our communities."

In an effort to right that wrong, City Attorney Mara Elliott says her office is happy to start erasing old charges.

"We're very grateful for this law and we're looking forward to fully implementing it,” said Elliott.

Frankly, her office doesn’t have a choice.

State lawmakers are mandating prosecutors go back through thousands of old cases and wipe the record clean for people convicted of what is now no longer considered a crime.

"We're well ahead of the game,” said Elliott.

She says her office is on pace to dismiss more than 5,000 convictions by the state’s deadline: July 1, 2020.

"It could be absolutely life changing for some people,” says criminal defense attorney Thomas Matthews.

Matthews has defended hundreds of defendants in drug cases here in San Diego. He says prosecutors are "doing the right thing."

"That's really a breath of fresh air,” says Matthews. “Because that's what should happen now that the law has changed."

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