Colorado Gov. to Issue Mass Pardon for Marijuana Convictions

Friday, October 02, 2020

On October 1, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis pardoned 2,732 low-level marijuana possession convictions through an executive order. The pardon only applies to convictions prosecuted in state courts through 2012 for possession of up to one ounce of cannabis. The pardon does not apply to marijuana convictions in municipal courts or other states.

“This really catches Coloradans up with where the law is today,” Polis told The Denver Post.

Notably, Gov. Polis had the option to pardon anyone with a marijuana conviction for possession of two ounces or less. Still, he opted to issue pardons for cases involving convictions of one ounce or less. House Bill 1424, passed in June, gave the governor the power to pardon marijuana convictions.

“It’s off their records. If they have a background check at work or want a concealed-weapons permit or a student loan, this will no longer hold anybody back,” Polis told Westword. “And it’s also symbolically important, because it shows that as a state and nation, we’re coming to terms with the incorrect discriminatory laws of the past that penalized people for possession of small amounts of marijuana.”

There is no need to apply for the pardon. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation combed through the Colorado criminal-history database to find convictions eligible for the pardon.

“The convictions were then reviewed to make sure they occurred in state court, and then eligible convictions were identified based on the conviction data. We were able to then proactively pardon all 2,732 convictions at the same time,” Polis said. The state has set up a website for anyone who wants to check if their conviction was pardoned:

Rep. James Coleman (D-Denver), one of the sponsors of HB 1424, plans on going further by expunging marijuana convictions and expanding social equity opportunities in the cannabis industry.

“Whether it’s one or a thousand (people), my focus is to figure out by the time I’m done in the legislature how we not only pardon these individuals but figure out how to expunge it off their records,” Coleman said.

Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012; however, the state has been slower than other legal cannabis states to pardon or expunge low-level marijuana convictions. Nevada has pardoned more than 15,000 cannabis convictions, while California has an automatic expungement process for certain convictions. Illinois and Massachusetts included a marijuana expungement process in their legislation legalizing marijuana.

While there are programs in Denver and Boulder to expunge marijuana convictions, they haven’t been very successful. In Denver, during the first six months of the expungement program, fewer than 1 percent of the 13,000 people eligible had their marijuana convictions erased.