Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed House Bill 1412 to allow him to pardon Coloradans with past minor marijuana convictions en-masse, starting 90 days from June 29, 2020, the day he signed the bill. The bill was drafted in order to make the legal marijuana industry more accessible to people of color, while also creating an avenue for those who have been previously convicted of minor marijuana drug charges that would not be crimes today, to have those charges dismissed so that they can move on with their lives.
Governor Polis signed the bill at Simply Pure in Denver, a dispensary owned by Wanda James and Scott Durrah. James and Durrah are the first Black couple in the U.S. to own a dispensary, a cultivation facility, and an edible company, according to their website.
“There are too many people that have a prior conviction for personal amounts of cannabis fully legal today that prevent them from getting loans, from getting leases, from raising capital, from getting licenses, from getting jobs, from getting mortgages, and that’s wrong. We hope that this measure will be the first step for new opportunities for thousands of Coloradans who should not be living with a cloud over their head simply because they were a little bit ahead of their time.”
– Colorado Governor Jared Polis
Despite the promising announcement, the governor has not yet stated how the program will actually work in practice once the law goes into effect. The Legislature passed House Bill 1424 on June 15, the last day of the 2020 legislative session. The primary goal of the bill is to make the legal marijuana industry more accessible to people of color as well as those who have been previously convicted of minor marijuana drug charges that would not be crimes today. In addition, the bill looks to expand the social equity program for marijuana business licenses to Colorado residents who have been arrested or convicted on a marijuana offense, been subject to civil asset forfeiture from a marijuana offense, or lived in an area designated as high-crime or economically disadvantaged.
“For decades now, the Black community has been disproportionately criminalized because of marijuana while others have profited. We have needed to act on this injustice for decades.”
– Rep. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat and bill sponsor
At the last minute, legislators agreed to add the provision providing the Governor with the ability to pardon Coloradans en-masse for convictions of marijuana possession of two (2) ounces or less, instead of permitting individuals to file for pardons on an individual basis. According to Longmont Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer, the amendment was included after the pandemic forced him to drop plans for a more extensive marijuana expungement bill. Fortunately, this will allow for the Governor to mass-pardon Coloradans, rather than forcing them to dismiss their charges on a case-by-case basis that would further clog up the courts.