Need a marijuana conviction removed? There’s a clinic for that

Fresno residents with minor drug-related criminal records got the chance to begin the process to expunge or reduce their convictions.

The Fresno County Public Defender’s Office through its Clean Slate program partnered with the National Diversity and Inclusion Cannabis Alliance (NDICA) and Element 7, a cannabis retailer, to host a free clinic June 29 at The Big Red Church for residents dealing with drug-related criminal records under Proposition 64 or Proposition 47.

“In most of these cases (for) the folks asking for this relief, it’s been years since they’ve been in trouble — sometimes decades or 15 years,” said Carmen Romero, who runs the public defender’s Clean Slate program.

“Many have been rehabilitated by themselves or through the criminal justice system. They’re not the people they were when they were offending. They have families and want to do better, but they can’t get jobs which makes it significantly difficult for them financially.”

The passage of Props 47 and 64 decriminalized certain drug-related offenses or reduced felonies to misdemeanors.

Helping people expunge their records also benefits employers, Romero said, since they won’t have to worry about hiring someone with a record.

Robert DiVito, founder and CEO of Element 7, said there are thousands of people statewide who want to find meaningful work in the cannabis industry, but they’re restricted because of their records.

“As an employer, Element 7 wants people that are passionate about what they do and find a deep sense of purpose in doing it,” he said. “…Element 7 is an enabler – we’re passionate about helping people unlock employment opportunities that intersect between passion and purpose.”

One of the people who plans to attend the clinic and clear his record is Aaron Foster, an organizer with Faith in the Valley-Fresno. He’s been the driving force behind seeking city funding for the Advance Peace program, a mentorship program geared toward reducing gun violence.

Foster’s misdemeanor conviction is from 10 years ago when he lived in Los Angeles, he said. He’s been open about his past being involved with gangs, but he’s turning a new page and “just becoming a functioning citizen.”

He’s hoping getting the conviction removed will help him get a job, specifically so he can open a cannabis business in Fresno.

“I believe if you live here, you should work here and benefit from cannabis, especially when we’ve been punished for so many years,” he said, referring the high rate at which people of color were harmed by the War on Drugs.

More about the clinic: bit.ly/expungementclinic2019.

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.