Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order to pardon 2,732 people convicted of possessing up to one ounce of marijuana in the state prior to legalization in 2012.

Gov. Polis’ action follows the General Assembly’s approval of a bill in June that included an amendment allowing the governor to pardon cannabis possession convictions up to two ounces – the legal possession limit for qualifying medical marijuana patients – without the input of the district attorney or judge concerned with the case. That bill, HB 1424, went into effect in September, 2020.

“We are finally cleaning up some of the inequities of the past by pardoning 2,732 convictions for Coloradans who simply had an ounce of marijuana or less,” Polis said. “It’s ridiculous how being written up for smoking a joint in the 1970’s has followed some Coloradans throughout their lives and gotten in the way of their success,” he added.

Polis’ pardons will only apply to state-level convictions up till 2012 when voters approved Colorado Amendment 64 which legalized recreational possession and use of up to one ounce of cannabis. The pardons do not extend to convictions in municipal courts or those made in other states.

Polis’ pardon will not expunge or seal an individual’s marijuana-related criminal record but it will remove it from any public record meaning it would not show up on a background check. This would make it easier for an individual with such a record to find a job, access a loan or gain approval for a concealed-carry permit.

“In addition to being symbolic, [the pardon] has real-life ramifications for people,” Polis said.

The conviction would still appear to a police officer conducting a background check, though with the mention of Polis’ pardon.

If eligible, the process is automatic meaning prior offenders do not need to apply for their pardon. This contrasts with the expungement process in Denver where individuals with marijuana convictions must apply to have their records expunged.

Colorado’s long-awaited pardoning of marijuana offenses comes more than six years after the start of legal adult-use cannabis sales. Since legalization, the recreational marijuana industry has netted Colorado more than a billion dollars in tax revenue.

In Illinois, Gov. Pritzker pardoned 11,000 people the day before legal marijuana sales began. Washington and Pennsylvania also recently announced plans to pardon individuals with low-level cannabis convictions. At the federal level, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he wants to provide funding to states looking to establish automatic expungement processes for people with marijuana-related convictions.

Expungement is the next step in the process for Rep. James Coleman (D-Denver), one of the sponsors of HB 1424.

“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. Individuals with prior marijuana possession convictions in Colorado can consult to see if they are covered by Polis’ mass-pardon.

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