Updated: Nov 10
By Sarah Gersten
Today Colorado Governor Jared Polis used his authority under recently passed legislation to automatically pardon 2,732 low-level marijuana possession convictions.
Last Prisoner Project congratulates Governor Polis and all the lawmakers and advocates that made this mass pardon a reality. Clean slate initiatives are incredibly important, particularly in states that have legalized marijuana and are seeking to undo the collateral consequences of unjust marijuana policies of the past.
Because the automatic pardon process places the burden on the state to identify and remove the convictions rather than on the individual seeking relief to navigate a complex legal petition process, this helps to eliminate the "uptake gap" which results from petition-based expungement processes.
The benefits of this kind of broad, clean slate legislation are clear. We know that a criminal record acts as a huge barrier to all aspects of an individual’s life. Even minor offenses, such as a nonviolent possession charge, carry lifelong consequences. Those with criminal convictions on their records have difficulty finding housing and employment, and in some states even social assistance programs are inaccessible to individuals with drug felonies on their record. One in 13 Black Americans of voting age is disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, a rate four times greater than that of non-Black people, and many of these convictions are for drug crimes that have been disproportionately prosecuted against people of color.
But clean slate legislation is only the first step in attempting to repair the past harms of the failed drug war--and it must be done right.
By limiting pardons to those who have the lowest level of cannabis misdemeanors, Governor Polis is only providing relief for a fraction of those harmed by unjust drug laws. And we know in Colorado, as in the rest of the country, enforcement of these laws disproportionately falls on communities of color. Additionally, by time-barring who is eligible for an automatic pardon, the process will further leave out those (again disproportionately communities of color) who were unable to take advantage of the regulated market post-2012 due to the numerous barriers to entry into the legal industry.
While clean slate initiatives are a necessary part of redressing the past harms of the drug war, they do nothing to provide retroactive relief for those still serving lengthy sentences for nonviolent marijuana offenses in now legal states like Colorado. If progressive lawmakers truly want to show that their state has "come to terms" with discriminatory prohibitionist laws of the past, then we need to push forward mechanisms for encompassing a much broader segment of the population--including those still incarcerated--left suffering from these unjust laws and policies.
To find out if you received a pardon under the new order you can go to comarijuanapardons.com.
This content was originally published at https://www.lastprisonerproject.org/gov-polis-automatically-pardons-thousands-of-marijuana-convictions with reposted with their permission.