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Crime and Courts

Denver officials want to clear some 10,000 low-level marijuana convictions, following in Boulder County’s footsteps

San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle announced their similar efforts early this year. Boulder County prosecutors just days ago made their plans public.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock speaks to a reporter on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

By Kathleen Foody, The Associated Press

Denver officials are planning to clear thousands of marijuana convictions prosecuted before its use became legal in the state.

Colorado was among the first states to broadly allow the use and sale of marijuana by adults, but cities elsewhere have led the way on automatic expungement of past misdemeanor marijuana convictions.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Hancock said Tuesday that city officials are still working on a plan to review the low-level convictions deemed eligible, an estimated 10,000 convictions between 2001 and 2013.

Denver officials, including the city attorney, are developing the right approach with the district attorney’s office, said Theresa Marchetta, Hancock’s spokeswoman. The mayor may issue a sweeping executive order or direct city staff to work with legal authorities and clear the cases individually, she said.

San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle announced their efforts early this year, framing the work as an attempt to repair years of damage on people who found that a misdemeanor conviction could bar them from jobs, housing and financial resources.

Just days ago, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty announced he would be filing motions to vacate convictions in cases where people used and/or possessed small amounts of marijuana.

Those convicted of low-level marijuana crimes in Boulder County are invited to submit an electronic application to have their convictions vacated. The district attorney’s office said it  will also continue to comb through cases from past years for qualifying convictions and file motions to vacate and seal them “on a regular basis as resources permit.”

Dougherty’s office called it a “a matter of fundamental fairness.”

Minority and low-income communities have been particularly hurt by those barriers, Hancock said in a statement.

“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,” Hancock said in a statement.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia now allow broad marijuana use, and Colorado state lawmakers have begun tackling the issue. California this year passed a law requiring the state Department of Justice to identify marijuana convictions eligible for erasure or reduction and provide lists to local district attorneys.

“It’s a long time in coming,” said Art Way, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Colorado office.

Colorado lets people petition courts to remove low-level offenses including possession from their records. But advocates said that can become expensive and time-consuming, and district attorneys can challenge the requests.

Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.

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