State Should Wipe Low-level Marijuana Offences Clean
Possessing small amounts of marijuana has been legal in Colorado now for six years, and yet convictions still haunt those who got caught with a small amount of pot or paraphernalia before voters approved Amendment 64 in 2012.
Slowly laws have adapted to meet the realization dawning over America that marijuana is a relatively safe drug comparable to alcohol. Possessing and using the drug were victimless crimes.
For those individuals convicted of possession, the convictions are a permanent stain on their records for something that is entirely legal under Colorado law today. In 2017 Colorado lawmakers passed a law that enabled folks to expunge these types of convictions from their records, however they must petition the court, pay fees and be aware in the first place that it’s an option to clear their record.
Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock and Boulder County’s District Attorney’s Office have decided to take proactive steps to help residents convicted in their jurisdictions accomplish expungement.
It’s unclear exactly how either program will play out, but we’re glad officials are pursuing this public service.
We have long been concerned with the unequal application of this nation’s drug laws. Hancock said it well in his announcement that Denver would pursue this policy: “For too long, the lives of low-income residents and those living in our communities of color have been negatively affected by low-level marijuana convictions. This is an injustice that needs to be corrected, and we are going to provide a pathway to move on from an era of marijuana prohibition that has impacted the lives of thousands of people.”
We understand the argument that we can’t retroactively apply law changes — especially without specific direction to do so from voters or lawmakers. However, Colorado’s lawmakers spoke on this issue passing a law through a then-Republican Senate and a Democratic House calling for these convictions to be eligible for expungement. Helping all Coloradans take advantage of that law just makes sense. Not only did these convictions disproportionately impact low-income residents and communities of color, but those same populations would have a more difficult time navigating the systems that allow them to expunge these records now.
In Boulder County, the district attorney’s office is going to automatically vacate and seal thousands of low-level marijuana convictions. Denver could take a similar path or simply make it easier for folks to begin the process themselves.
Other jurisdictions across Colorado should take note. It could save everyone — including our strained bureaucracies and court systems — time and money if we can all agree to vacate these convictions automatically. And it could be good for our economy too if people looking for employment find their records clean once more.
Colorado’s experiment with recreational marijuana hasn’t been perfect, but it has been a step in the right direction. Denver and Boulder will face challenges as they implement these policies, deciding how to deal with people who have multiple convictions or other drug-related offenses, but this goal also is a step in the right direction.
The Denver Post