The City of Denver's marijuana conviction expungement program is online and ready to roll, according to the mayor's office as well as the district and city attorneys, who collectively announced the news today, January 9.
Dubbed "Turn Over a New Leaf," the campaign took a year and multiple city departments to implement and aims to dismiss and expunge thousands of convictions for marijuana crimes that are no longer illegal as of 2012, when Coloradans approved recreational marijuana.
Although there are rumors that the state legislature could pass a bill this year that would automatically vacate low-level marijuana offenses, people with low-level pot convictions can currently only clear their records by filing individual motions for each case. According to the city's announcement, this program wants to streamline that process with a website to guide people through the appropriate steps toward expungement.
There will also be four clinics through February and March for in-person help. After providing government-issued ID, expungement applicants will meet with a representative from the Denver District Attorney’s Office or the Denver City Attorney’s Office (depending on the jurisdiction in which the conviction happened), who will review their case.
“We have been working now for over five years to implement recreational marijuana, and as we’ve been communicating with mayors across the nation, this was one of the things that needed to happen in order to level the playing field,” Hancock says. “We recognized together that it was time to move forward.”
In further efforts to help those impacted by the long-running War on Drugs, the mayor's office is also looking at ways to use marijuana tax revenue to further support low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, as well as avenues to increase minority participation in the legal pot industry.
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The mayor says his staff is still figuring out how to best tackle both issues, as Denver now has a limit on the amount of marijuana businesses allowed within city limits. “We're looking at how we can to that. Denver has a cap in place for the number of permits issued,” he explains. "We're looking at the number of opportunities we can work with."
Enacting this program took more than just signing an order, Hancock says. On top of the City Attorney and DA, the county courts also had to be on board, as well as the judges who expunge such charges.
Denver DA Beth McCan says it took a number of meetings to work out details, such as applicant court fees, how courts should properly vacate charges, and even immigration issues, as some immigrants are worried about facing deportation by appearing in court. By clearing the path of legal obstacles, she hopes more people will start pursuing expungement — an avenue rarely considered by defendants.
“We have not had a lot of people contacting the office about this. We’ve had some who asked if we’d do a program like this, but we haven’t had a lot of folks trying to carry this out on their own,” she says. “We're hoping that we can do this within two to three weeks. If [someone] meets the criteria, we’ll file a motion with the judge, and we’re hoping to have it vacated.”
According to the DA's office, around 13,000 people could be eligible for expungement (previous reports estimated that number at 10,000), though far fewer are expected to actually apply. Denver county and city judges will ultimately decide on each case, with city and district attorneys representing the applicants.
Even with so many opportunities for expungement, marijuana attorney Warren Edson doesn’t see the city’s effort moving the needle much. Calling it a “step in the right direction,” Edson believes people who faced such marijuana charges in the past have either moved on with their lives because the charges were relatively small, or that the charges were part of a larger incident, such as domestic violence or driving under the influence.
“This only applies to charges that are now legal, so someone charged with growing twelve or less plants, someone charged with an ounce or less of recreational cannabis, and someone charged with 2 ounces or less of medical marijuana,” he says. “It’s a nice gesture, but it’s not going to really affect folks who were substantially charged.”
Unless they want to get in a fight with the state, McCann and the DA’s office can’t vacate charges that are still felonies in Colorado. However, she was open to the idea of expunging records in the future if further marijuana law reform occurs in areas such as public consumption or personal marijuana grows. McCann also pointed out that past marijuana crimes are still considered drug offenses in Colorado, so expunging a record could mean an opportunity to work in the state’s pot industry, which bans anyone with a drug felony within the past ten years.
Find more information on the upcoming expungement clinics below:
Saturday, February 9, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Denver Conflict Center
4140 Tejon Street
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Sunday, February 24, 1 to 5 p.m.
Denver Park Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church
3385 Albion Street
Wednesday, March 6, 5 to 8 p.m.
Servicios de La Raza
3131 West 14th Avenue
Thursday, March 21, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
2901 Walnut Street
Update: This post was updated at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, January 9, to include interviews from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, District Attorney Beth McCann and attorney Warren Edson.