Former convicts in Colorado are now offered the opportunity to get their past criminal records wiped from the books, which is a small recognition from elected officials that some of the first states in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana now have some revisions to make.
Back in 2012, when Colorado voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 64, there was no discussion about clearing the records of those most impacted by the war on ‘drugs.’ Today, when states craft regulations, expungement of criminal records for past marijuana offenses are generally written into the ballot initiative or law, which was most recently on display in Michigan and Illinois.
But earlier this year, the Colorado legislature passed House Bill 1424 that created a new definition for social-equity license applicants. Most importantly, the law empowers the governor the power to create a special class of former convicts who can now get their cannabis convictions cleared from their records. It’s an important step toward reaching some kind of social equity in the marijuana industry, which, at best, has a checkered record on these fronts.
Besides hanging heavily around the necks of convicts – stifling employment opportunities even after they’re released – those criminal records actually lock many former marijuana convicts out of job prospects in their state’s now legal cannabis firms.
In order to to raise awareness and provide support to past convicts, some public-interest groups – like Cage-Free Cannabis, California Cannabis Advocates and Smart Pharm Research Group – are offering employment opportunities, online resources and health screenings for former prisoners..Beside giving them the tools they need to succeed on the outside, the goal is to shine a light on the problems people face after they thought they were finally free.
But each state has different laws, and there are still many questions about how records can be expunged. To expunge means to completely eliminate a criminal record. Though records can also be sealed, which means they can only be opened under certain conditions.
That’s why education is key. Even though the law has changed in Colorado, not many people know what it means for them. What is the process to get your name cleared? How do you get on the governor’s list? How much does it cost? Do you need a lawyer?
This Saturday, the Color of Cannabis Expungement Clinic is from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. It’s designed to answer those and other questions many people have. This online-only session is available through Zoom, and will feature a presentation by an attorney from Vincente Sederberg who will describe the general process and explain which crimes can and cannot be expunged.
They’re also setting up one-on-one consultations with participants. It is only designed for those arrested in Colorado, though other such seminars are popping up across the nation because they’re now seen as essential.
“Managing state bureaucracies is something that no private citizen should be expected to do. That’s why we’re here to help,” says Brian Vicente, a founding partner at Vicente Sederberg.
“People of color have long been targeted by law enforcement for cannabis use, resulting in arrests and convictions that were wildly out of proportion to the general population,” says Sarah Woodson, who founded The Color of Cannabis to help provide a pathway for restorative economic and criminal justice to communities negatively impacted by the war on ‘drugs.’
The clinic is sponsored by Vicente Sederberg, Native Roots, Terrapin Care Station and Lightshade.
“Lightshade is committed to supporting these expungement clinics to increase diversity and inclusion within the cannabis industry here in Colorado,” says Lisa Gee, Director of Marketing and Corporate Responsibility at Lightshade. “Increased inclusion and diversity will only strengthen Colorado’s cannabis industry, and this effort will go a long way toward getting us to that goal.”