DENVER — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is taking action to expunge thousands of low-level marijuana convictions that occurred in Denver prior to marijuana legalization, according to a release from the city.
That includes more than 10,000 marijuana cases in the city from 2001 to 2013. Hancock said the move is part of “Denver’s continuing effort to promote inclusion for people and communities disproportionally impacted by the war on drugs.”
The city is also exploring different ways to use marijuana tax revenue to support low and moderate-income neighborhoods.
“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,” Hancock said in the news release. “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.”
Just last week, the Boulder County District Attorney announced a similar plan to vacate and seal about 4,000 previous pot convictions.
DA Michael Dougherty announced a new program called “Moving On from Marijuana Convictions,” where his office file motions to vacate old marijuana convictions on behalf of qualifying candidates.
“It's a matter of fundamental fairness,” Dougherty said. “With every criminal conviction, someone carries with them collateral consequences for the rest of their lives. So, for example if someone's applying for school or applying for a job, they have to list that as a conviction on their record, yet Colorado voters overwhelmingly passed legalization of marijuana. I don't believe, we don't believe that people should have to carry those collateral consequences for conduct that would otherwise be legal now.”
Dougherty said Colorado lawmakers passed a law that allows people to petition the court, themselves, to have marijuana convictions sealed. His office is now trying to take proactive steps to file petitions on their behalf.
“Someone would not have to retain an attorney and come to the courthouse,” he said. “Ultimately, were going to do that for anyone and everyone that qualifies.”
Criminal defense attorney, Jay Tiftickjian, says this makes a huge difference for people still dealing with the consequences of old convictions.
“There are thousands and thousands of people who have a dangerous drugs conviction on their record, whether it be for drug paraphernalia or possession. And it was nothing more than going in the court, paying $100 fine, and walking out of court and never thinking about it again until they can’t get a job,” he said.
“When there [are] 100 resumes on a table, a lot of employers aren’t taking the time to seek out an explanation, they're just moving onto next resume. This gives a lot of people the clean slate that they deserve.”
Out of the 25,758 people that use Denver Workforce Services - a city-funded employment and training resource - 1,421 or 5.5 percent of them say a criminal record is a barrier to getting a job.
"It is incredibly limiting when you have that particular blemish on your background, so the fact that thousands of folks could see that erased from their background will absolutely open up a ton of new doors in a ton of new occupations and industries right now," said Tony Anderson, director of workforce services at Denver Office of Economic Development.
Although people could already petition the court themselves, Tiftickjian said Denver and Boulder County’s new effort to help is a positive move.
“There is a government outreach to people who have been convicted of drug crimes before. Now they’re going back and really trying to right those wrongs and saying, hey, we’re a different society now, but we’re not going to let the society before that was more Draconian with our drug laws continue to haunt you moving forward.”
Mayor Hancock's announcement in Denver Tuesday comes after several months of review by the Office of Marijuana Police and the City Attorney’s Office. Both those agencies are working with the district attorney, Denver County Courts and stakeholders to develop the process for expunging records, the release said.
“Our office has been actively participating with the courts and the working group that is focused on this issue,” Denver District Attorney Beth McCann told 9NEWS. “We are supportive of the concept and are currently examining the legal issues and processes required to review cases in which people were convicted of low-level possession of marijuana.
Hancock noted the impact the marijuana industry has had on Denver’s economy – with marijuana tax revenue making up 3.41 percent of Denver’s overall revenue last year.
An estimated 3,250 jobs in the city were a direct result of the marijuana industry in 2017, with another 6,000 estimated jobs resulting from secondary impacts like jobs in service and retail, the release said.
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