Editorial: Colorado lawmakers should expunge low-level marijuana convictions

Colorado has led the nation in reform of marijuana laws, joining Washington state to legalize recreational cannabis in 2012. Since then, eight other states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational pot, with more states planning to join them.

Medical marijuana has garnered even broader support, with legalization occurring in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

The national momentum toward legalization continues to build.

Despite legalization, past low-level marijuana convictions continue to affect citizens of Colorado who ran afoul of the law prior to pot becoming legal. Those with such convictions on their records can have difficulty landing employment, credit or housing.

In 2017, Colorado passed a law allowing those convicted of low-level marijuana crimes to petition the courts to expunge their records, for a fee. But that law does not go far enough. What’s needed is a wholesale expungement of low-level marijuana convictions.

Already, local jurisdictions are moving in that direction, with the Boulder County district attorney announcing plans to vacate and seal low-level marijuana convictions affecting about 4,000 people between 2008 and 2013, with older convictions eventually being targeted for expungement as well. Denver also has unveiled plans to assist with expungement.

But a patchwork of such actions does a disservice to residents of the state: Legalization was accomplished on a statewide basis by a vote of the people. It’s incumbent on the General Assembly to take action that would have immediate effect throughout Colorado.

While we understand concerns about expungement of convictions for what was then a crime, we also believe that cannabis was criminalized for far too long, with too many people caught up in the court system and with the laws disproportionately affecting people of color and of low income.

In Denver alone, an estimated 10,000 people were convicted of low-level marijuana crimes from 2001 to 2013, according to The Denver Post. Many thousands more carry such convictions on their records throughout the state.

Of course, expungement must be done carefully, with some provisions made to exempt those convicted of more-serious drug crimes or acts of violence.

But for the thousands of individuals convicted of truly low-level marijuana crimes, blanket expungement makes sense.

It’s time to put the era of marijuana prohibition behind us. We encourage the Legislature to pass a bill that accomplishes blanket expungement, with the aforementioned exceptions. The process should be easy to navigate, with clear standards applied for what types of convictions would qualify.

Colorado has led the nation in reform of marijuana laws, joining Washington state to legalize recreational cannabis in 2012. Since then, eight other states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational pot, with more states planning to join them.

Medical marijuana has garnered even broader support, with legalization occurring in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

The national momentum toward legalization continues to build.

Despite legalization, past low-level marijuana convictions continue to affect citizens of Colorado who ran afoul of the law prior to pot becoming legal. Those with such convictions on their records can have difficulty landing employment, credit or housing.

In 2017, Colorado passed a law allowing those convicted of low-level marijuana crimes to petition the courts to expunge their records, for a fee. But that law does not go far enough. What’s needed is a wholesale expungement of low-level marijuana convictions.

Already, local jurisdictions are moving in that direction, with the Boulder County district attorney announcing plans to vacate and seal low-level marijuana convictions affecting about 4,000 people between 2008 and 2013, with older convictions eventually being targeted for expungement as well. Denver also has unveiled plans to assist with expungement.

But a patchwork of such actions does a disservice to residents of the state: Legalization was accomplished on a statewide basis by a vote of the people. It’s incumbent on the General Assembly to take action that would have immediate effect throughout Colorado.

While…