Colorado Moves to Clear Pre-Legalization Marijuana Convictions

On Nov. 6, 2012, 55 percent of Colorado voters elected to pass Amendment 64: a popular initiative to amend the Constitution of the State of Colorado to allow for the personal use and regulation of marijuana for adults 21 and over, as well as commercial cultivation, manufacturing, and sale. This monumental vote led to the legalization of marijuana in January, 2014 — a tremendous victory for the growing drug decriminalization movement. 

The legalization of marijuana bears much more significance than just allowing people to get high without legal consequences. 

Representative Jonathan Singer of Longmont, Colo. stated, it’s about “leveling the playing field for people who’ve always been disproportionately affected by these laws.” 

Illustration By Ben Murphy

Low-level marijuana arrests have always disproportionately burdened African Americans and Hispanics. A 2012 study performed by Sociology Professor Harry G. Levine at Queens College tallied approximately 200,000 total arrests in Colorado between 1986 and 2010 for marijuana possession. Despite comprising just 23 percent of the state’s population and reporting a markedly lower marijuana usage rate than their Caucasian counterparts, African Americans and Latinos accounted for 36 percent of all marijuana possession arrests in the decade preceding Amendment 64. 

Nearly five years have passed since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, yet thousands of Coloradans with pre-legalization marijuana convictions remain behind bars. In an effort to secure justice for these individuals, Colorado legislators like Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock are lobbying for legislation to vacate convictions and seal court records for defendants charged with possession of small amounts of marijuana. Last month, Dougherty launched the “Moving On from Marijuana” initiative, which aims to promote “fundamental fairness” and to “relieve eligible offenders of the collateral consequences associated with their conviction.” 

Hancock’s office released a statement in support of Dougherty’s initiative — asserting that vacating the criminal convictions is part of a “multi-pronged approach to ensuring that communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs can benefit from the legalization of marijuana.” 

On Dec. 4, Hancock announced that the city of Denver plans to vacate more than 10,000 convictions for low-level marijuana possessions that occurred during the prohibition era. 

“For too long, the lives of low-income residents and those living in our communities of color have been negatively affected by low-level marijuana convictions,” Hancock said. “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.”

Unlike Denver and Boulder, Colorado Springs has no plans for marijuana amnesty. Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who has served as Colorado U.S. attorney, state attorney general, and 4th Judicial District attorney, is not onboard with the decriminalization rhetoric. “I can only speak for myself as mayor, but given my background, I believe people ought to be held accountable for intentional violations of the law,” Suthers stated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *