National Expungement Week hits Los Angeles with clinics across the county helping people clear their record and get a second chance at life.
A coalition of more than 20 organizations working at the intersection of the cannabis industry, racial equity and reparative justice organized the weeklong legal services tour in conjunction with events across the country, hoping to help some of the 77 million Americans with convictions on their record. For many marijuana offenders, the crime they committed isn’t even on the books anymore.
Saturday, Oct. 27, will be the main event locally, with one workshop in Inglewood, while downtown hundreds are expected to converge on the National Diversity & Inclusion Cannabis Alliance (NDICA)’s first annual Diversity and Inclusion Social Equity Expo at L.A. Trade-Tech College. NDICA, Los Angeles Regional Re-Entry Partnership and L.A. County Public Defenders are partnering to to handle the expungement portion of the event. The expo offers a wide-ranging program to accompany the expungement clinic, including a job fair, housing assistance, a health and wellness pavilion, seminars, guest speakers, and even a few celebrities showcasing their cannabis brands.
One of the more interesting dynamics of Saturday’s expo is the fact that right after anyone clears their record, they can learn to create their own little piece of the industry that got them in trouble with the law in the first place. They can get information on how to apply for L.A.’s Phase 3 cannabis license, especially if they live in a ZIP code that was disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs. The Oakland-incubated idea of cannabis equity permits has spread across the country; the first equity-permitted dispensary in the country is expected to open in Oakland in early November.
"Freeway" Rick Ross keynotes Saturday’s festivities. Ross plans to speak specifically on the importance of communities of color taking advantage of the opportunity presented by L.A.’s Equity Permit Program, generational wealth and further socioeconomic aspects of why African-Americans need to get involved in the cannabis industry.
“We want to give people a fresh start,” said NDICA founder Bonita “Bo” Money. "African-American and Latino communities have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs, leading to mass incarceration. Because of criminal records, a large percentage of minorities are unable to participate in the business of cannabis due to state laws governing the industry. Still, there are so many opportunities to be involved in the cannabis business without ever touching the plant.”
National Expungement Week’s chief organizer, Adam Vine, spoke exclusively with L.A. Weekly about the process involved in putting together this kind of event. Vine took part in a previous L.A. Trade-Tech workshop in March that saw 240 people have their records expunged and 80 receive services. He also participated in Tuesday night’s workshop in Van Nuys that provided services to people in the San Fernando Valley.
We asked Vine about the experience of helping these folks out and seeing the immediate results.
“It’s a very personal moment,” Vine told L.A. Weekly. “You do tend to see a visible look of relief on someone’s face when they’re walking out after they’ve expunged their records. But at the same time, it’s an experience we want to be very mindful of, both in the moment and afterward. We don’t take a lot of pictures of the process happening.”
Vine says organizers understand that the conversations they have at the clinics have the potential to change someone's life. But it also has the potential to force people to relive memories that they’d rather not relive. “So it is complicated and human,” Vine said.
Vine said this weekend may have the largest turnout of any National Expungement Week event across the nation, for a variety of reasons. “But because L.A. is L.A., we wanted to have events happening all over the county so that they’d be accessible no matter wherever you were,” he said.
Organizers lean on volunteers for the manpower needed and rely on the L.A. County Public Defenders Office for their expertise in expungements. “They are far and away the best in the business at doing this, at handling this process from start to finish,” Vine said. The public defender's office is what allowed organizers to scale up and serve 240 people in March, he said, adding that in the past they have brought teams of up to 30 people to assist people.
However, such clinics may not be needed for long. “These may well be the last expungement clinics, as they hopefully won’t be needed anymore given passage of AB 1793 by Assemblyman [Rob] Bonta to have the state attorney general’s office automate expungements,” California NORML executive director Dale Gieringer told L.A. Weekly.
Gieringer co-authored Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana use in 1996, and has spent decades working to lift the burden of the criminal justice system off the state’s responsible adult cannabis users. He believes the Legislature approved AB 1793 because the number of marijuana offenders applying for expungement has been lower than expected.
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While California wasn’t the first state to retroactively allow folks to clear their records of simple marijuana offenses — Oregon won that race — it will be the first state to automate the process. The Judicial Council of California estimates at least 218,000 residents would benefit from the new law by having easier access to things like student loans, housing and jobs.
As to whether National Expungement Week organizers think this is the twilight of such clinics, “I doubt we’ll be running the last one, maybe for cannabis convictions, but even with that, those automatic expungements won’t go through until 2020,” Vine said. If a person wants to get the process done and over with as soon as possible free of charge, events like the expungement clinic are the way to go.
Saturday's expungement clinics will take place at L.A. Trade-Technical College, 400 W. Washington Blvd., downtown, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and at Chuco’s Justice Center, 1137 Redondo Blvd., Inglewood, from 10 a.m. to noon
Other participants this week include Equity First Alliance, Cage-Free Cannabis, Cage-Free Repair, Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, Minorities for Medical Marijuana, California Cannabis Advocates, Tree Femme Collective, We BAKED, the Pot Lab and Smart Pharm Research Group.