With a stroke of his pen, Governor Jared Polis on Monday launched a program to begin the mass pardoning of Coloradans with minor marijuana possession convictions on the final day of the state’s legislative session.
Known as House Bill 1424, the legislation allows the governor to mass pardon people convicted of possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. The bill also notably includes a section that allows Colorado residents to take part in a “social equity” program that can assist them in applying for “any regulated marijuana business license or permit.”
In order to qualify for the program, the applicant must meet one of the following criteria: resided for at least 15 years between 1980 and 2010 in an area recognized as high crime or economically disadvantaged or they, a family member or spouse have a past arrest, conviction, or civil forfeiture due to a marijuana offense.
The Denver Post quoted bill sponsor Rep. James Coleman as saying “For decades now, the Black community has been disproportionately criminalized because of marijuana while others have profited,” and that, “we have needed to act on this injustice for decades.”
The Post also reported that Governor Polis can begin offering the pardons in 90 days.
“Restorative justice” measures such as this have been a major rallying cry for many legalization and criminal justice reform advocates, who have argued that criminal records keep people from entering the legal cannabis industry even many years after their offense. These past convictions have also disproportionately affected minority communities throughout the Drug War.
In late June, Pennsylvania unveiled a plan to expedite the mass pardoning and expunging of non-violent cannabis convictions. The plan was first announced in September by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman who said “my goal, my dream, would be full legalization. But in the interim, you have the ability to apply right now for free for a pardon and we have the ability to streamline and expedite that and handle it in bulk.”
Meanwhile, in Sonoma County, California the District Attorney announced that thousands of people will have their low-level cannabis convictions cleared. Expunging of records is just one restorative justice measure that legal cannabis states have undertaken recently.
Santa Cruz, California District Attorney Jeff Rosell is working on a similar plan, petitioning local courts to dismiss and seal more than 1,000 minor marijuana charges dating as far back as 1969.
In Illinois in May, state officials announced the launching of the R3 program, which will invest $31.5 million in funds from legal cannabis sales into “restorative justice grants,” to help people from communities most adversely affected by the War on Drugs.