SOUTHERN COLORADO — Governor Jared Polis granted thousands of pardons on Thursday, for Coloradans convicted of possession of one ounce or less of marijuana at the state level. In total, there are 2,732 convictions eligible for the pardons.
The names of the people being pardoned will not be released for privacy purposes. They will also not receive a notification saying they have been pardoned, and must check through comarijuanapardons.com or CBIRecordsCheck.com.
Law enforcement background checks will still report the conviction, but will also have a note saying it has been pardoned.
The oldest conviction being pardoned is from 1978, and the most recent is from 2012, which is the year Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana.
News5 spoke with Representative James Coleman, a prime sponsor for HB20-1424, which made these pardons possible. He said the idea started as a way to help people previously charged with marijuana convictions have the chance to work in the now legal industry. "Disproportionately, those folks look like me, who are not able to work in the cannabis industry. And again, this isn't just about the cannabis industry, this is about so many other industries where folks are not able to work, they're not able to get a place to live, they're not able to go to college, all because people are able to look at their records and make judgments about who they are. And also, the law states that you are not able to work in a particular profession with a prior conviction," said Representative Coleman.
Representative Coleman said Colorado has roughly six million people, and around 4% of those individuals are African American. However, he said the pardons impact African Americans more than any other race. "Racial justice goes beyond police brutality. It goes into whether or not we can have a job, whether or not we can live in a certain place and have housing, whether or not we have health care... We can celebrate these smaller victories, but the larger victory to me is figuring out a way to expunge records, is figuring out a way to get these people back to work," said Representative Coleman.
Plus, Representative Coleman believes the momentum of this year is responsible for getting this bill passed. "That pressure is the difference. Because we've run bills like this in the past and they've failed, and so now, the biggest difference I see is that we have more community support," said Representative Coleman.
Grow Life is a medicinal marijuana dispensary in Colorado Springs. The General Manager, Chris Spurlock, said he sees a lack of minority representation in the cannabis industry. "These laws have been used for far too long in ways that disproportionately affect minorities and people of color... When it has disproportionately affected people of color, that means that a lot of minorities can't get into this kind of a business," said Spurlock.
Spurlock also told News5 these pardons are a step forward, but there is still more work to be done. "Honestly, this brings tears to my eyes. This is such a fantastic opportunity for so many people who have had just the worst end of the law," said Spurlock.
Gaddis Law has been around for about a year and a half, and was started by Aaron Gaddis, who has worked in the criminal justice system for around 14 years. Gaddis specializes in the laws surrounding marijuana. "It's not right that anybody has their entire life ruined over marijuana," said Gaddis.
Gaddis said in addition to the potential denial of a housing situation or job, an individual with a past cannabis conviction could also loose the chance for a better plea deal.
While he is happy to see the steps being made by the state, he believes this needs to go farther, because many Coloradans with similar charges are still struggling. "Glad that they're at least taking a step in the right direction. I would have liked to see it be more honestly, I'd like to see it be at least two ounces," said Gaddis.
Governor Polis does have the ability to pardon people convicted of possession of up to two ounces of cannabis, but this round of pardons was based on what voters decided back in 2012, when recreational marijuana was first legalized and the limit was an ounce.
There could be more pardons in the future.
CLICK HERE to read through frequently asked questions about these pardons. The document also includes how to apply for a pardon, and check to see if you were pardoned.