Denver's Pot Conviction Expungement, Open to Thousands, Has Cleared 38 People So Far

A Denver Police Department officer confronts attendees at the 420 Rally at Civic Center Park in 2016.
A Denver Police Department officer confronts attendees at the 420 Rally at Civic Center Park in 2016. Brandon Marshall
Denver’s Turn Over a New Leaf program allows thousands of people with past low-level marijuana convictions to apply for expungement, but the turnout hasn't been huge. Nearly two months after the program's launching, just 38 people have been accepted for it, according to the Denver District Attorney's Office.

Turn Over a New Leaf started accepting applications in January, allowing those who were convicted of now-legal marijuana crimes in Denver before Amendment 64 passed to apply for expungement with assistance from the city and the DA's office. According to the city, around 13,000 people convicted of low-level marijuana offenses before recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012 are eligible to wipe away prior drug crimes, which can impede or deny access to career, housing and military opportunities.

“A lot of people have been affected by their old marijuana convictions, and it hurts them in many ways,” says Eric Escudero, communications director for the Department of Excise and Licenses, one of the city departments heading the initiative. “This is not a violent crime. They did not murder or assault anyone, and should be allowed to have a second chance.”

Although Turn Over a New Leaf's potential and intentions are admirable, the city expected challenges with awareness. Overall, 176 applications have been filed, according to the DA, with 38 being of those deemed eligible for expungement. Some applications are still being considered.

Escudero says many applicants are instantly ineligible because they committed marijuana offenses outside the city of Denver. Metro communities in Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson counties haven't implemented programs for those with low-level marijuana offenses looking to seal their records, and the Turn Over a New Leaf program is only offered for offenses that occurred in the city of Denver, not statewide.

Cases that aren't as clear may also be denied, says Abby Moffitt, an attorney for marijuana law firm Corry & Associates. According to Moffitt, who has attended one of the clinics, some marijuana possession charges were pled down to different and lesser offenses that may be deemed ineligible for concealment, such as possession of codeine. Those charged with a DUI along with low-level marijuana offenses also might not qualify, since DUIs can be never be concealed in Colorado, she adds. If a case seems unclear, applicants will be directed to defense attorneys for further advisement.

Although the numbers don't seem high yet, the impact isn't lost on the near-forty people it has helped, Moffitt adds. “Having your records sealed reminds you that you’re not a criminal and you’re not wrong,” she explains. “I’m hoping the program will allow people to restore their self-esteem and confidence, and make them have a better view of themselves.”

The city has been working hard to get the word out about the program, holding two public clinics to help guide applicants through the process in February, with two more scheduled in March (the next clinic is tomorrow, March 6). Mayor Michael Hancock's administration has partnered with a marijuana public relations firm founded by the former Denver Post pot editor to push the effort, while Excise and Licenses is currently working with dispensary owners to spread information about Turn Over a New Leaf.

A bill expected to be introduced in the Colorado General Assembly this year would allow similar expungement efforts at a statewide level, but until that happens, Turn Over a New Leaf, Boulder County's Moving on From Marijuana initiative and other local efforts will have to suffice.

Denver's next expungement clinic will be held Wednesday, March 6, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Servicios de la Raza, 3131 West 14th Avenue. Another clinic will be held Thursday, March 21, at Cultivated Synergy. For more information about Turn Over a New Leaf and the upcoming clinics, visit the program's web page.
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