San Francisco Is The First City To Use An Algorithm To Expunge Cannabis Records

The city used the "Clear My Record" algorithm as part of a partnership with Code For America.

San Francisco is using an algorithm to clear low level cannabis offenses Source: Wikileaf

The Golden City of San Francisco is making waves. San Fran recently became the first city in the United States to automatically expunge the criminal records of city residents for low-level cannabis-related charges.

This was accomplished using the “Clear My Record” algorithm developed by Code for America, a nonprofit working to improve the use of technology in government.

The algorithm became available to the city as a result of a partnership between Code for America and the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. The DA’s office announced last week that over 8,000 cannabis related convictions, some dating back to as early as 1975, are currently set to be either expunged or reduced.

The use of an automatic algorithm will be especially beneficial to San Francisco residents because it doesn’t require their active participation. Normally, if you’ve been charged with a crime and the law changes, you have to apply and petition to have the charge removed from your record. This process takes time and money that many people simply can’t afford; the novel Code for America algorithm has the ability to selectively search for cannabis-related convictions according to specific codes.

Medical cannabis became legal in California back in 1996; recreational cannabis took a while longer to become mainstream and recreational use only became legal in 2016 following the passage of Proposition 64.

"Venice Beach, USA - March 13, 2011: Employees advertising their services in front of a medical marijuana evaluation center."

Venice Beach, USA (Source: iStock / joebelanger)

According to a recent announcement made by Code for America’s executive director, Jennifer Pahlka, “We could run through bulk data, run through the basic technology algorithm on that data and essentially determine eligibility for thousands of convictions in literally just a few minutes, as opposed to months, possibly even years. This has eliminated the need for the petition and eliminated the need for the DA’s staff to go through the records one-by-one, which would have been two enormous obstacles.”

The city of San Francisco employed a pilot version of the same program back in May of 2018 and dropped over 1,200 cannabis related convictions. 

The District Attorney of San Francisco, George Gascón, tweeted about the expungements on February 25th of this year, saying, “With @codeforamerica, the @SDFAOffice becomes the first county in the country to finish the automated marijuana record clearance process. 8,132 marijuana-related convictions have automatically been cleared. This adds to the 1,230 convictions that have already been expunged.”

Now that San Francisco’s automatic expungement program has ultimately proved to be successful, other cities across the country will hopefully be jumping on the bandwagon. The process of expunging criminal records on an individual basis in time-consuming, requiring substantial government resources. The expansion of the expungement algorithm developed by Code for America in cities across the country with legalized cannabis has the potential to change the lives of thousands of Americans.

Another tweet by the DA’s office and written by Gascón, said this:  “I hope that our success with Code for America can act as a catalyst for other leaders looking to engage in similar innovative and out-of-the-box methods to reform and rethink what our criminal justice system looks like.”

San Francisco Is The First City To Use An Algorithm To Expunge Cannabis Records was last modified: by
Anna Lucia Krupp
About Anna Lucia Krupp
Anna Lucia Krupp is a freelance scientific and technical writer working out of the Twin Cities area.