The news media in California is all atwitter about San Francisco’s decision to make it unnecessary for those with pot conviction records to hire a lawyer to seal those records. They should be. It’s the right thing to do.
Prohibitionists will argue that people who broke laws do not deserve special government help at taxpayer’s expense to secure new rights given them in Prop. 64. That law, adopted by California voters in 2016, mandated that marijuana convictions be reversed on petition of the person affected. In most cases they would need to hire an attorney to petition the court to seal the record. San Francisco is making that expense unnecessary. This is only right, because those convictions should never have occurred in the first place and in many cases wrecked the arrestees’ employment, costing them plenty.
The outlawing of marijuana use and possession was based on deceitful fear mongering by government. The American people were subjected to the worst kind of demagoguery from Washington and state capitols in the 1930s, when a U.S. Treasury official named Harry Anslinger, rode his high horse all over the airwaves to tell parents “Your children…are being introduced to a new danger in the form of a drugged cigarette, marijuana. Young [people] are slaves to this narcotic, continuing addiction until they deteriorate mentally, become insane, [and] turn to violent crime and murder.”[i] That disinformation was picked up and bandied about in the media who treated it as gospel. The 1936 movie “Reefer Madness” and a Hollywood production soon carried the same message.
The consequence of the criminal laws that followed was predictable. A robust black market developed and we lost all chance for control to keep the drug away from minors. By the time of Nixon’s ill-advised war on drugs kids were accessing pot in every community and many became addicted.
For decades young people have been going to jail for what today most Americans realize never justified such treatment. In some states people have been locked up for years for possession of trivial amounts of weed. But, even the liberal states like California have wrecked careers and lives pointlessly. The taxpayers did this to them—and its time the taxpayers do what’s feasible to lessen the harm.
San Francisco will review records and dismiss over 3,000 misdemeanor convictions. As to about 4,000 felony convictions, mostly involving dealing and related offenses, these will be modified as necessary to comport with the new law. In neither case will it be necessary for anyone to hire a lawyer.
In time it is likely other cities and states will follow suit. It can’t occur fast enough. Thanks, San Francisco.
[i] As quoted by Johann Hari in his well-researched book, Chasing the Scream, citing Steve Fox, Paul Armentano and Mason Tvert, Marijuana Is Safer: So why Are We Driving People to Drink? p 51