A group of legal activists is calling on district attorneys in eight states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana to take the next logical step: expunge the records of people charged with misdemeanors related to marijuana possession.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group, sent letters to 201 officials in eight states: Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington last week, pointing out that current procedures to expunge convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession are cumbersome. The committee encouraged the district attorneys to follow the lead of San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who announced in January that he would expunge and then dismiss thousands of misdemeanor and felony marijuana possession cases going back to 1975.
“While drug policy on the federal level is going backwards, San Francisco is once again taking the lead to undo the damage that this country’s disastrous, failed drug war has had on our nation and on communities of color in particular,” he said in announcing the move.
In the letter to Randy Flyckt, prosecutor in Adams County, Washington, the committee argued that expunging marijuana-related misdemeanors would help remove barriers to seeking employment and housing for those who have been convicted of drug crimes.
Myesha Braden, director of the Criminal Justice Project at the Lawyers’ Committee, told The Intercept that expunging these records offers an opportunity to make amends for arresting people in the past for what is no longer considered a crime. “We can’t fix what happened for all the various previous policies that focused on the ‘war on drugs.’ We can’t undo everything. But this is relatively low-hanging fruit that these district attorneys can do a very small thing that will have a tremendous impact on people’s lives,” she said.
Retired Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, formerly of the U.S. District Court for