By Kathleen Foody, The Associated Press
A simplified program will make it easier for thousands of people to seek the elimination of low-level marijuana convictions they received in Denver before recreational use became legal in Colorado, officials said Wednesday.
Based on a review of digitized court records between 2001 and 2013, Denver officials have estimated 10,000 convictions could be eligible. The new program requires people to fill out an online form or get help to do so. Officials with legal expertise will then seek court approval to dismiss the convictions and seal the offenders’ records.
“This is about equity for our communities of color and individuals who were disproportionately impacted by low-level marijuana convictions that are no longer crimes in Colorado,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement.
Colorado was among the first states to broadly allow the sale and adult use of marijuana in 2014, but cities elsewhere have led the way on automatic expungement of past convictions. Seattle, San Francisco and some prosecutors in New York City last year rolled out programs to throw out hundreds of marijuana convictions, saying now-legal activity should not bar people from getting jobs or finding housing.
States also have sought solutions to the problem. Washington state’s governor announced this month that he would pardon thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession, and Michigan’s governor has said she would consider a similar approach.
California has a new law requiring the state Department of Justice to provide lists of marijuana convictions eligible for erasure or reduction to local prosecutors.
Colorado currently allows people to petition courts to remove marijuana offenses, including possession, from their records. Advocates have criticized that approach because it puts the onus on individuals with convictions and can become expensive and time consuming.
Denver officials said Colorado’s law doesn’t allow them to take the kind of sweeping action used in other cities. So they said they decided to make the state’s process of petitioning courts easier for people who want to eliminate convictions they received in Denver.
Denver’s new program still requires people to take the first step toward clearing their records, either by filling out a form online or attend events where officials can help people who were convicted to make the requests.
The officials with legal expertise will then seek court approval for the convictions to be eliminated and follow up with state agencies to make sure records used by employers, landlords and others during background checks have been altered so the convictions no longer appear in those records.
Most people will not be required to pay anything to have their convictions eliminated because the Marijuana Industry Group that represents growers, sellers and other sector businesses is helping cover court fees.
Boulder County prosecutors are also working to help people clear low-level marijuana convictions from their records. New Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, has expressed interest in a statewide effort along the same lines as well.
Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.
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