National Expungement Week is upon us, which means clinics and events will take place nationwide to help past offenders move forward with their lives. And with laws allowing legal cannabis since 2012, the state is ripe for record-sealing opportunities, advocates believe.
On Saturday, September 21, the National Expungement Week team will work alongside cannabis employment recruiter Vangst and voter-registration group Headcount to give those harmed by previous cannabis, drug and other charges a chance at new opportunities in the cannabis industry. The clinic is part of a national week of events and awareness running from September 21 through September 28.
The NEW events throughout the week aim to alert communities that have been impacted by past charges of already-existing resources to help them seal their records and take essential steps toward moving on to better lives. The Denver clinic is open to everyone with eligible low-level charges that took place in Colorado, and isn't necessarily restricted to just cannabis and drug offenses.
Past charges can affect much more than employment chances in the pot industry, NEW points out, with housing, education and loan applications, public assistance and voting rights all affected by past convictions. Rosalie Flores, a NEW organizer, says many with past charges don't think they're eligible for the cannabis industry, and just need some more information about its required qualifications.
“The cannabis space can kind of be like a bubble,” she says. “Some people haven’t considered working in the industry or know much about it. But if your records are sealed, you can work in the industry.”
Denver cannabis activist and fellow NEW organizer Melanie Rodgers says diversity and inclusion are important to today’s cannabis industry, but victims of the War on Drugs and underserved populations aren't profiting from legal pot as much as they should.
“Not many who are black, brown or Asian are in the cannabis industry. The industry is basically comprised of one group of people: white men,” she says. “But everyone should be allowed to have a seat at the table and reshape the future. Everyone should have a chance to be seen and heard in this industry.”
Attendees will learn about programs offered by Boulder and Denver that clear past cannabis convictions for crimes that are now legal (the charges must have occurred within their respective jurisdictions) — and how the state legislature altered a state law that banned anyone from becoming a licensed cannabis employee if they were convicted of a felony within the past five years, or of a drug felony within the past ten years; the new law removes the special drug-felon ban and cuts the five-year ban for felons to three years.
Those interested in new career opportunities in the cannabis and hemp industries can talk with Vangst representatives at the event to see what kind of careers suit their interests and qualifications, and can even submit their résumés for current and future job openings. If you don't have a MED badge — a required credential to work in legal marijuana similar to a food handler's card — you can learn how to acquire one or learn more about opportunities in the hemp industry.
"Just because legalization has happened in Colorado doesn’t change the fact that people have been affected by past prohibition,” Vangst senior recruiter Kelsey Barton says. “Our goal is to help make sure people who have been negatively impacted by past prohibition be able to have the same opportunities as anyone else.”
Colorado state laws currently don't allow full expungement of cannabis crimes, only record-sealing. But both Rodgers and Flores hope auto expungements similar to California's will happen in Colorado one day. That way, people looking to have their records sealed can do so quickly, without needing to go to a walk-in clinic.
“Having auto expungements can be great for people who need them,” Rodgers adds. “That way, sealing records can be quick, without having to take a good chunk of the day off to walk into a clinic and have a lawyer do it for you.”
Denver's NEW clinic takes place Saturday, September 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at CrossPurpose, 3050 Richard Allen Court. For more information on Saturday’s event or on the charges that are eligible for expungement, visit the National Expungement Week website.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.