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Denver's Last Pot Record-Clearing Clinic Aims to Boost Low Numbers

Denver city officials speaks to Denver County inmates about clearing old pot convictions.EXPAND
Denver city officials speaks to Denver County inmates about clearing old pot convictions.
Courtesy of the Denver City Attorney's office
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Denver's Turn Over a New Leaf program will hold its last scheduled clinic to vacate low-level marijuana convictions on Saturday, May 18, at the Denver Broncos Boys and Girls Club in the Montbello neighborhood.

The program has struggled to reach the expectations raised by its splashy rollout in January, with only 323 people applying and 83 of those successfully sealing their records since the program was launched, according to the Denver City Attorney's Office.

Originally labeled an "expungement" program by the city, which cited the potential to clear over 10,000 old marijuana cases from 2001 to 2013, the year before recreational pot sales began, Turn Over a New Leaf has been criticized for the program's low success rate and for not fully expunging the cases, as had been anticipated. (We fell for that line, too.)

Although vacating a crime and record sealing are similar, the city attorney's office admits that they're not the same as full expungement, as the records of a crime aren't completely destroyed in a record sealing. After receiving complaints, the city has changed its tune on the program, now using words like "clear" and "vacate" on the Turn Over a New Leaf web page instead of expungement, which can no longer be found there.

According to Senior Assistant City Attorney Anshul Bagga, state law doesn't allow full expungement for past marijuana crimes, and instead requires defendants to move to vacate and seal their records on their own; Denver can't move to automatically clear old crimes, as San Francisco's city attorney recently did for over 9,000 low-level pot convictions.

Turn Over a New Leaf is Denver's attempt to catch up with the efforts of San Francisco and other cities, including Boulder, providing a website and hosting five clinics to show applicants how to move through the process, as well as sending staffers to Denver County jails to provide information to inmates. Although they might have more substantial crimes on their records, jail inmates at least have the time to consider participating — if they know about the program. According to City Attorney Marley Bordovsky: "We recognize that inmates are more likely than others to have these kinds of convictions on their records and least likely to know the program exists."

While the May 18 clinic (set for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Denver Broncos Boys and Girls Club, 4397 Crown Boulevard) is the last scheduled gathering where city attorneys will discuss the program with potential applicants, Denver hasn't ruled out holding another in the future if the clinics are deemed worthwhile.

Or if people point out that a one-in-four success rate isn't much of a new leaf.

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