Marijuana Pardons in Colorado

It may soon be possible for individuals previously convicted of marijuana possession in Colorado to have the convictions expunged from their criminal records. The Colorado General Assembly recently added an amendment to House Bill 1424 that would allow Governor Jared Polis to mass-pardon all marijuana convictions for possession of two (2) ounces or less of cannabis. The amendment passed just before the Colorado state legislature ended its last session of 2020. The move could have positive implications for cannabis retail operators in the state.

Colorado Legislature Approves Cannabis License Social Equity Program

House Bill 1424, which had bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans, is a broad measure intended to create new opportunities for people of color in the burgeoning cannabis industry. Although cannabis has been legalized in Colorado for medical and recreational use, many industry observers have complained that there are still many social inequities for minorities when it comes to the state’s retail cannabis industry. The end result has been that there simply are not enough minority owners who are able to make inroads in the industry and obtain licenses to operate a dispensary. The recent legislation aims to fix that problem by creating incentives for certain individuals to own a regulated marijuana business in Colorado.

The new law applies to anyone who meets one of the following criteria:

  1. Lived in a lower-income economic opportunity zone or high-crime area for at least 15 years between 1980 and 2020.
  2. Was previously arrested, convicted, or subject to civil asset forfeiture related to marijuana when possession of pot was still illegal in Colorado.
  3. Had an annual household income that would place their family in the low-income category.

Eligible residents who want to get involved in the legal cannabis industry would receive incentives from the Colorado Department of Revenue or the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The exact nature of these incentives has not yet been determined by government officials.

Mass-Pardoning of Individuals with Past Marijuana Possession Convictions in Colorado

Anyone with a prior conviction for marijuana possession will be eligible for immediate, automatic pardon by the governor. This means that there will be no need for an individual to file an application or seek approval from a local district attorney or judge. Additionally, although Governor Polis will be able to consult with others before issuing pardons, he is not required to follow anyone else’s advice. Once individuals convicted of cannabis possession have been pardoned, they will then be eligible to get the record of the conviction expunged.

The implications of the mass-pardon provision could be significant, particularly for individuals who were previously convicted of marijuana possession in Colorado but who now live in another state. In these other states where marijuana may still be illegal, a conviction for pot possession can have a devastating effect on a person’s ability to seek employment, public housing, or government assistance.

History of HB 20-1424 and Expungement of Past Marijuana Convictions in Colorado

State legislators have been trying for some time to pass a law that would clear marijuana convictions from criminal records. Jonathan Singer, a Democratic Rep. from Longmont, proposed a similar bill earlier this year. That bill would have automatically cleared all past marijuana possession convictions, but legislative delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic meant that there was simply not enough time to garner enough votes in support of the bill. Shortly before the legislative session came to an end, Rep. Singer decided to try once again by tacking on an amendment to the cannabis social equity bill. Singer justified the inclusion of the amendment by connecting cannabis business licensing and “people who are still paying for their crimes that are now legal and constitutional.” Moreover, said Singer, those costs are being borne disproportionately by communities of color in Colorado.

Some state legislators objected to the expungement amendment on the grounds that it was more of a “criminal justice” concern and not sufficiently connected to the marijuana business licensing bill. Ultimately, however, HB 20-1424 passed with bipartisan support.

Next Steps for Applicants to Colorado’s Marijuana Social Equity License Program

Now that HB 20-1424 has been passed by the Colorado state legislature, it will head to Governor Polis’ desk. If Polis signs the bill, it will become the law in Colorado and grant him the authority to expunge prior convictions for misdemeanor pot possession. It is expected that Polis will choose to sign the bill. A spokesperson for Polis stated that the governor is “happy that a meaningful, bipartisan bill addressing marijuana equity passed the legislature.”

Applicants to the state’s new social equity license program will be able to start submitting their applications at the beginning of 2021. The Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division is expected to finalize the rules for eligibility soon so that there are no delays for applicants.

Contact Scythian Cannabis Real Estate Today

Scythian Real Estate is a trusted partner of cannabis operators who are looking to raise funds and expand their retail operations into new states. Scythian already works with The Green Solution and Grassroots (recently acquired by Curaleaf) in states like Colorado, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

If you are a cannabis operator, you can contact Scythian by sending an email today.