Rob Jenkins’ life was turned upside down in 2008 when he was convicted of growing marijuana in his apartment. I don’t know who told on me or what but police ran in there, took my whole garden apart, trashed my whole apartment. I got evicted from the apartment. I got a notice like two weeks later that said get the hell out. Jenkins managed to avoid jail time with a plea deal but his criminal record made it difficult to find a job, so he went back to illegally growing and dealing marijuana. I had to sell clones and pretty much risk going back to jail, while on probation. For three years. So it was pretty much just risking my life. Jenkins is one of an estimated 20 million people nationwide, with a criminal record related to marijuana use or distribution, living in a state where recreational cannabis is now legal. In a move that’s reminiscent of the final years of the Prohibition era, when then President Franklin Roosevelt issued some 1,300 pardons for alcohol-related offenses, officials are now looking for ways to clear these convictions from the public record. With a new year come new laws that take effect today in California and among them, the legalization of marijuana. It’s going to send a beacon of hope out to all of the other states, and to all of the other countries across the world where cannabis is still illegal. When California voters legalized cannabis in 2016, they also approved a proposition that allowed the state to expunge past convictions. But the law hasn’t worked as intended. There are too many bureaucratic hurdles in the path to expungement. But the way the legislation was written really kind of put it all on the people that have been convicted, and, it didn’t prohibit us from doing anything about it didn’t also spell out that you should. San Francisco district attorney George Gascon became aware of this problem when his office first started tackling the process of identifying records eligible for removal from the system. In 2017 the city had over 9,000 residents eligible for expungement but only 23 people had petitioned to wipe their records clean. We know that statewide the numbers of people seeking relief for this type of stuff is usually around 5 or 10%. So there’s a really small number and frankly often the people that seek relief, well they’re more sophisticated. They understand the law is there, they can hire a lawyer, or even if they don’t have the money hire a lawyer, they go proactively to a expungement clinic. They do this on their own. Grascon turned to Silicon Valley for help. Partnering with a non profit, Code for America, to come up with a technological solution to the problem of too much red tape. A criminal record is an enormous barrier to jobs, to stable housing, to education to being able to engage in your kids school activities. Ivonne Silva is Code for America’s senior program director. How do we reduce those barriers? And we started to build an early technology that would help an individual go through that process on their own. In building that technology we ask the question well why do people have to apply at all? Why petition at all when we know that the government has the information to evaluate eligibility, to provide this relief automatically? Silva’s group is aiming to clear a quarter million cannabis-related convictions in California by the end of the year. It’s using an algorithm to flag records eligible for expungement, then software automatically files the necessary paperwork to clear the conviction. While San Francisco was the first county in the state to implement this new program, Code for America is partnering with other jurisdictions, including Los Angeles and San Jose, to launch a pilot program it’s hoping eventually to apply its technology nationwide. The technologys actually very simple, but it also starts to shift the way in which people relate to their government because now this is a service provided to government, as opposed to government, being seen as an obstacle. Jenkins, who now works in the legal cannabis industry and is hoping to start his own medical grow operation paid thousands of dollars in attorney fees to get his conviction expunged. I feel kind of validated you know, I know people are still in jail for it you know so that so it’s legal, but there’s still people in jail right now, for cannabis related offenses. I know eventually they might get released and eventually, you know they might have their record expunged but I mean it’s days lost, time lost, I lost everything when I got arrested. That was a lot of resources that I could have used towards the business I’m trying to start from scratch right now.