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California Company Launching Program to Help Expunge Cannabis Convictions Under Prop. 64

In late February, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced that his office would clear more than 9,000 cannabis-related convictions from 1975 to the present. The move is an active step toward one of Prop. 64’s inherent promises: to right the wrongs of California’s War on Drugs.

“It’s incumbent that we, as law enforcement leaders, continue to evolve how we advance fairness and public safety in our respective communities,” Gascón told the San Francisco Chronicle. His office is just one bright example of how California's past cannabis convictions are being wiped from public records—thus removing hindrances to employment, housing and professional licensure.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, more than 500,000 California residents were arrested for some sort of cannabis-related crime between 2006 and 2015, the year before voters approved Prop. 64. “For everyone, Prop. 64 contains important sentencing reforms that eliminate or reduce most criminal marijuana offenses,” according to the organization. “All penalty reductions will be applicable retroactively. Thousands of Californians can petition to have their sentences reduced and hundreds of thousands more may be eligible for criminal record clearing.”

Heally CEO Greg Rovner is starting a new program through his company and taking aim at the hundreds of thousands of cannabis convictions languishing on criminal records across California. Fresh Start is a vehicle, Rover told Cannabis Business Times, for applying the law that voters approved three years ago. 

Heally is a software company that connects consumers with physicians. Rovner said that the basic building blocks of his company delivered an epiphany: He could connect consumers with other professionals. Like attorneys.

The Fresh Start program will get the ball rolling on Prop. 64’s expungement provisions—with an eye toward broader, systemic criminal justice reform. According to the California voter-approved mandate, most cannabis convictions are eligible for expungement in the state. San Francisco’s district attorney went ahead and fast-tracked that process in his jurisdiction. A 2018 law requires the state to otherwise flag cases “potentially eligible for recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal and sealing, or redesignation” before July 2019. Individual prosecutors will then have another 12 months to either challenge that call or let it proceed. 

In the meantime, Fresh Start will roll out and function on three levels, Rovner said, each zooming out to capture a broader vision for how to reform this component of the nascent cannabis industry. Heally is accepting applications now.

To begin, Fresh Start will “streamline” the expungement process, Rovner said. As part of the application for the Fresh Start program, an individual will fill out an intake form (a modified version of what other Heally customers will fill out to connect with a doctor). The person’s individual state conviction codes will be matched up against eligible conviction codes for expungement or reduction—and the program will clear the cannabis convictions through a separate piece of software synced up with the state.

For example, Health and Safety Code 11360, Sales of Marijuana, is a felony that can be reduced to a misdemeanor under certain circumstances. HSC 11357, Possession of Marijuana, is a misdemeanor that can be expunged under certain circumstances. (HSC 11357 still carries an active penalty for people possession more than 28.5 grams of cannabis or more than eightgrams of concentrated cannabis.)   

Rovner said he has a vision of taking this program beyond the borders of California, too—into states that have passed their own laws for a regulated cannabis industry but that have not yet placed legal emphasis on criminal justice reforms. “There are a lot more extreme cases across the country, obviously, and people [are] still incarcerated for this,” he said.

The long-term goal, then, is to connect those individuals with pro-bono legal representation, an attorney who will then work to expunge any cannabis-related conviction.

From there—the third level of the Fresh Start vision—Rovner said he wants to see this program connect those applicants who’ve cleared their records with an agency that can connect them to jobs. Already, Heally has partnered with ELLO to develop this staffing component of the program. 

“In partnership with ELLO, … we will be seeking to connect people with jobs after the expungement or during the expungement process,” Rovner said. “Right now, by definition, [we’ll be connecting them with] cannabis jobs, because that's where the injustice lies. If there's an opportunity to clear people's records or get them jobs in other industries, by all means that’s something that we would be willing to pursue.”

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