On September 27th, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced that over 60,000 cannabis convictions would be overturned. While it would be lovely to live in a time when this wouldn’t be such big news, promises to overturn cannabis convictions in a steadily awakening public perception of cannabis have often resulted with red tape more often than action. The initiative to overturn these cannabis convictions was initiated by embattled former Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, but after she was voted out of office, Gascón made true on his word with valuable assistance from Felicia Carbajal, a community center executive director with crucial attention to detail.
Seeking a More Thorough System
According to the Los Angeles Times, Lacey was relying heavily on information gathered from California’s Department of Justice resulting in the base list that Gascón referenced. However, it was outside assistance from the Social Impact Center’s executive director, Carbajal, that gave Gascón’s offices the perspective they needed to add tens of thousands of additional names to the list. Carbajal and her team recognized that relying solely on California Department of Justice information when compiling the list would overlook a good number of eligible cases.
Keeping the Wheels of Justice Moving
Carbajal recognized this oversight when Lacey was still in her role as DA. While she states that she contacted Lacey’s offices to discuss the issue, an allegation that Lacey denies, no action was taken. And it may have never amounted to anything if it wasn’t for a well-timed meeting and Carbajal’s persistence. During a panel discussion in April, Carbajal met former public defender Tiffiny Blacknell. Since the subject of the discussion was the enforcement of cannabis laws, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for Carbajal to bring up the summary dismissal of her findings regarding overturning cannabis convictions in Los Angeles County. As luck would have it, Blacknell had moved into an advisory role to Gascón who had since replaced Lacey after her defeat in the 2020 election.
Lacey claims that the extra thousands of cases Gascón’s team added to their list were actually names her team had added but were reticent to report since they were on hold pending a cross check against the legal language of Proposition 64, which clarifies the terms of California’s decriminalization of use and possession of cannabis. But Carbajal argues that her meeting with Blacknell is at the heart of the sudden forward momentum of the overturning of cannabis convictions in Los Angeles County.
Using State-of-the-Art Technology to Overturn Convictions
The reversal of outdated War on Drugs-era punishments were an important element of Gascón’s campaign for election and one that came with significant experience. During his time as a prosecutor in San Francisco, he formed a relationship with Code for America, a technology-based non-profit who developed an analytical algorithm to narrow down cases eligible to be overturned in the wake of Proposition 64. Armed with this information, Gascón pursued the dismissal of close to 9,000 cannabis-related convictions. But this is just a drop in the ocean of the cases he’s proposing to overturn as Los Angeles DA.
Along with this initiative to overturn Los Angeles cannabis convictions, Gascón is also aiming to seal the conviction records using a blanket court order. This move would allow defendants to move on with their lives beyond the looming shadow of a deeply outdated conviction. Despite her unpopularity, former Los Angeles DA Lacey pushed for the overturn of non-violent cannabis convictions; a cause that has carried on well into Gascón’s time as DA. Los Angeles continues to set a solid example for cannabis reform. And if enough of the rest of the country are watching, this will hopefully become such standard practice that similar events won’t warrant headline news.