Mayor Michael Hancock said Tuesday that Denver wants to vacate more than 10,000 convictions for low-level marijuana possession in the city that occurred before the drug was made legal in Colorado.
“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 in a statement.
“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.”
The move could affect what the mayor's office said are thousands of convictions between 2001 and 2013, when a ballot measure passed by state voters legalized recreational use of marijuana.
Hancock's announcement follows an initiative launched last month by Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty to vacate convictions and seal court records for defendants charged with possession of small amounts of marijuana that would be legal today.
"We are taking this significant step as a matter of fundamental fairness and to relieve eligible offenders of the collateral consequences associated with their conviction," Dougherty said in a statement announcing the "Moving On from Marijuana" plan.
"Our office is committed to pursuing justice in every case and, as such, assuring that now legal conduct does not continue to have an adverse impact on people’s lives."
Hancock's office said that expunging 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."
Other steps include using marijuana tax revenue — expected to account this year for 3.6 percent of the city's total revenue — to support neighborhoods with low- and moderate-income residents.
“We need to better understand the obstacles, business conditions and regulatory hurdles preventing individuals from seeking employment or business ownership in the cannabis industry," Hancock said. "We believe in equal opportunity for all, and that includes those working in the cannabis industry.”
Denver's district attorney Beth McCann has been been working with the Hancock administration to formulate the proposal and supports the approach, DA spokeswoman Maro Casparian told Colorado Politics.
"Our office has been actively participating with the courts and the working group that is focused on this issue," she said in a written statement. "We are supportive of the concept and are currently examining the legal issues and processes required to review cases in which people were convicted of low-level possession of marijuana."
A marijuana industry spokesman lauded the move.
“What we are seeing is a trend to expunge low-level marijuana convictions stemming from a failed drug war that disproportionately impacted communities of color and other vulnerable populations," Peter Marcus, communications director of the Boulder-based Terrapin Care Station, told Colorado Politics.
"Mayor Hancock and Boulder County District Attorney Dougherty should be applauded for recognizing that a successful marijuana legalization program must also right the wrongs of a failed prohibitionist era."
Pointing to additional states that have legalized the drug — after last month's elections, recreational marijuana will be legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana is legal in 33 states — Marcus added:
"As with any democracy, when the people speak, elected officials must listen. What we are seeing with low-level cannabis expungements is a willingness to respect the will of voters.”