Denver unveils new system for clearing marijuana convictions

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DENVER | A scaled-down program will make things simpler for thousands of people to seek the elimination of low-level marijuana convictions that happened in Denver before recreational use became legal in Colorado, officials said Wednesday.

Mayor Michael Hancock said the update “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.”

The city of Denver has unveiled a new system for clearing low-level marijuana convictions. AP Photo

Based on analysis of digitized court records between 2001 and 2013, Denver officials have estimated 10,000 convictions could be eligible.

The new program requires those seeking help clearing their convictions to submit an online form or attend an event. Prosecutors employed by the district attorney or city attorney will then seek court approval to dismiss the convictions and seal court records.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann called the effort a matter of “justice and fairness.”

Colorado was among the first states to widely allow the sale and adult use of marijuana in 2014, but other municipalities have led the way on automatic expungement of past convictions.

Seattle, San Francisco and several prosecutors in New York City last year instituted programs to toss hundreds of marijuana convictions, claiming now-legal activity should not bar people from getting jobs or finding housing.

States have also been looking for 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 that requires 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 been critical of that approach because it puts the onus on individuals with convictions and can become expensive and time consuming.

Denver officials said Colorado 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.

Denver’s new program still requires people to take the first step toward clearing their records, either by filling out a form online or attending an event set up by the city.