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Mayor of Denver Announces Plans to Vacate Pre-Legalization Marijuana Convictions

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock says expunging prior weed convictions for more than 10,000 residents helps correct a long-standing injustice.

Effort to Clear Low-Level Cannabis Convictions in Illinois Gains Traction
Dougie Jones/ Shutterstock

The United States Conference of Mayors is a non-partisan organization bringing together mayors from U.S. cities with populations above 30,000. At their annual summer meeting, Denver, Colorado mayor Michael Hancock took the lead organizing a task force, dubbed the Government for Responsible U.S. Cannabis Policy Coalition, to take everything cities have learned about legal weed and make policy recommendations to Congress and the White House. In addition to developing resolutions for the federal government, the coalition also drew up a resolution calling on local governments to vacate marijuana charges for now-legal conduct. And after months of developing a process, Mayor Hancock brought the Coalition’s expungement resolution back home, announcing Tuesday a citywide effort to expunge all low-level marijuana convictions in Denver.

More than 10,000 People Just Became Eligible for Expungement in Denver

According to Denver’s public crime data, judges convicted over 10,000 people for low-level, non-violent marijuana offenses between 2001 and 2013. Over that same period, Denver’s population grew from about 565,000 to 650,000 people. And that means that in the 21st century, Denver convicted roughly 2 percent of its population for things like possessing small amounts of weed or consuming it in public. Of course, that 2 percent wasn’t evenly distributed across the population. Instead, marijuana convictions came down vastly disproportionately on people of color and vulnerable low-income residents.

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock called the city’s history of drug enforcement “an injustice that needs to be corrected.” And today, he announced the opening of a pathway to vacate all pre-legalization marijuana convictions. The move is the result of months of planning with the Office of Marijuana Policy, the City Attorney’s Office, District Attorney Beth McCann and the Denver County Courts. And it brings Denver together with other U.S. cities in New York, Vermont, California, Washington, Delaware and elsewhere that have opened up expungement processes for those with pre-legalization convictions.

Denver Adds Expungement to Growing List of Cannabis Equity Resolutions

Expungements are a matter of social and criminal justice. They both acknowledge the racist disproportionality of drug enforcement and make immediate and often substantial differences in people’s lives. Drug convictions, even for low-level and misdemeanor marijuana offenses, have a seemingly never-ending string of knockdown effects. Arrest and booking already threaten income, employment, childcare and housing. But convictions can lead to job loss and the inability to take out loans for school or to start a business. They can cause people to lose their federal benefits and immigration status. They can make it hard to find work, secure housing and even just move about freely.

Expungement is only part of the picture, however. Access to economic opportunity in the cannabis industry is also a major component of improving equity in the marijuana market. In Denver, officials estimate the cannabis industry was responsible for creating nearly 10,000 new jobs between 2014 and 2017. Denver’s total employment comes to about 520,000 jobs, according to The Denver Channel. And that means cannabis employs about 2 percent of all workers in the city. Denver is also using data from the industry to identify where and how to develop its workforce and encourage licensing, ownership and entrepreneurship in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. “We believe in equal opportunity for all,” Hancock said in today’s announcement.

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