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Marijuana Convictions Slow To Be Overturned In Parts Of California

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – Thousands of criminal convictions involving old marijuana cases are just waiting to be overturned in California.

People may not know they can have old convictions tossed out.

In the late 2000s, Daniel Montero had a serious criminal record after he was busted for possessing over an ounce of marijuana and for cultivation.

Those two felony convictions were a dark cloud that hung over his head for years, until voters passed Prop. 64, legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Montero went back to a judge shortly after the law took effect.

Former offender Daniel Montero said, "The judge congratulated me for successful expungement. I remember he was warm with me. I felt great. I was on cloud nine."

That was in early 2017, and today, key players in the county criminal justice system gathered to say the system is not moving fast enough.

The District Attorney's Office is receiving scrutiny from civil rights leaders.

Sean Kali-Rai with the Silicon Valley Cannabis Alliance said, "We've been walking down this path towards justice for a while. And I think now we want to pick up the pace and start to run."

In 16 months, Santa Clara County has only expunged 500 cases.

Santa Clara County Public Defender Molly O'Neal says 10,000 convicts likely qualify for review, going back to the 1970s.

KPIX5 asked O'Neal whether she ever thought she'd see the day where she was reversing convictions?

"I didn't," O'Neal said. "I can't hardly believe it. It's a great day. It's a great time to be a criminal defense attorney."

She says the challenge now is to get the word out to the public quickly, so they can erase their convictions and get on with their lives.

O'Neal said, "Convictions like these are barriers to employment, housing, student aid. It's huge. So once you get that off your record, you can move on and get back into the community and the workforce and be a tax-paying member of society."

Santa Clara Co District Attorney Jeff Rosen has been a prosecutor since 1995, back in the days of the three strikes law.

KPIX 5 asked Rosen what it was like to reverse convictions he'd worked so hard to obtain and asked him if it was a surreal moment for him?

"I don't know if I would say it's surreal," Rosen said. "We're very committed to following the law, whether we personally agree with it or not. And as soon as this law was passed, literally as soon as it was passed, we'd already set up something with the public defender's office to make sure we could process requests."

Santa Clara County is trying to get the word out: if you have a marijuana conviction, call the District Attorney's Office or the Public Defenders' Office and there's a good chance you can have that conviction wiped clean.

California state Assemblymember Ash Kalra says there is a bill moving through Sacramento now that would require courts to move more quickly to expunge the cases.


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