Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper recently announced that he may release prisoners serving time for nonviolent, weed-related charges. With Colorado about to release prisoners with marijuana convictions, more and more states are exploring ways of granting leniency to people affected by cannabis charges.
Another Step Forward
Colorado has positioned itself at the forefront of cannabis law reform. The state approved its first legal medical marijuana program in 2000. Then, in 2012, the state voted to legalize recreational cannabis. And now, with Colorado about to release prisoners with marijuana convictions, it looks like The Centennial State is about to take another big step forward.
On Tuesday, Hickenlooper told sources about his decision. In particular, he explained that he has already identified somewhere around 40 prisoners who could be eligible for release. Each is currently serving time for nonviolent, marijuana-related charges.
Hickenlooper said that he and his administration are reviewing the prisoners’ records and looking into details regarding their cases. Authorities are also examining the prisoners’ conduct while in prison.
If officials are satisfied with the prisoners’ records, they will be invited to formally file for clemency. And Hickenlooper has made clear that those applications would receive favorable reviews.
For Hickenlooper, the decision has to do with a couple key points. For starters, he sees it as a way of dealing with overcrowded prisons. Additionally, he said releasing these prisoners would be a way of bringing law enforcement practices into line with current state laws.
“Right now, we have not enough room left in our prisons,” Hickenlooper told The Denver Post. “So if what these people are serving serious time for wasn’t violent—is no longer illegal—maybe we should be looking at [whether it’s] safe to release them.”
This isn’t the first time Hickenlooper has made this kind of move. Last November, he pardoned seven people convicted of marijuana possession.
Final Hit: Is Colorado About To Release Prisoners With Marijuana Convictions?
Colorado’s intention of releasing prisoners serving time for cannabis charges could be part of a growing national trend. Lawmakers are increasingly talking about the need to address the harm caused by cannabis laws. And some local governments are taking concrete action.
Last week, San Francisco and San Diego made a groundbreaking announcement. In both cities, people with misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions will automatically have their criminal records cleared.
The conversation is also moving to the national stage. Last fall, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker introduced The Marijuana Justice Act to the Senate. Then, in January, California Representatives Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna introduced a House version of the bill.
This bill calls for the federal legalization of cannabis. But it also goes much further. If it ever becomes law, it will also expunge all federal cannabis convictions.
In many ways, efforts to release prisoners and clear records is an attempt to address the harm caused by the War on Drugs. In particular, they are attempts to redress the racially disparate ways in which that war has been waged.
According to the ACLU, black people in the U.S. are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. That number goes even higher in certain parts of the country.