Colorado lawmakers consider bill to automatically clear past marijuana convictions

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One key detail could determine whether an upcoming bill in Colorado’s statehouse stands to affect hundreds of thousands of people, or perhaps just a few hundred.

State Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat from Longmont, is vowing that “there will be a bill” introduced in 2020 to allow for statewide expungement of criminal records for all people convicted of low-level marijuana offenses in Colorado prior to legalization.

The big question now: Should the bill require that the state automatically clear these convictions — including for now-legal activities like minor possession, use and possession of paraphernalia — or should it require that people apply for expungement?

If it’s the latter, recent history indicates the bill would have relatively little effect; expungement through application is already available in Denver and Boulder County, but, as of mid-October, just 71 people, out of more than 17,000 eligible, were successful in vacating their marijuana convictions.

Across the state, there were about 200,000 arrests between 1986 and 2010 for marijuana possession, a 2012 study from Queens College found. That study also found black and Latino people were disproportionately targeted in enforcement, accounting for 36 percent of all possession arrests despite making up just 23 percent of the state’s overall population, and despite reporting using marijuana less on average than white Coloradans. [Read more at The Denver Post]