Hancock announces citywide effort to vacate low-level marijuana convictions

DENVER — As part of Denver’s continuing effort to promote inclusion for people and communities disproportionally impacted by the war on drugs, Mayor Michael B. Hancock announced on Tuesday a citywide effort to vacate low-level marijuana convictions that occurred before marijuana legalization.

Between 2001 and 2013, more than 10,000 people were convicted of low-level marijuana crimes in Denver that are now legal and eligible for expungement.

“For too long, the lives of low-income residents and those living in our communities of color have been negatively affected by low-level marijuana convictions,” Hancock said. “This is an injustice that needs to be corrected, and we are going to provide a pathway to move on from an era of marijuana prohibition that has impacted the lives of thousands of people.”

This decision comes in the wake of several months of necessary review by the Office of Marijuana Policy and the City Attorney’s Office. Marijuana Policy and the City Attorney’s Office are also working with the District Attorney, Denver County Courts and stakeholders to develop a process for expunging records. In June, at the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Hancock signaled his early support for this policy by signing a resolution calling for cities to vacate certain marijuana misdemeanors.

This focus includes a multi-pronged approach to ensuring that communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs can benefit from the legalization of marijuana. The city has been exploring a variety of tactics, including the continued use of marijuana tax revenue to support low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, obtaining data related to the marijuana industry and identifying areas of need in workforce development and licensing ownership and entrepreneurship. 

“We need to better understand the obstacles, business conditions and regulatory hurdles preventing individuals from seeking employment or business ownership in the cannabis industry,” Hancock said. “We believe in equal opportunity for all, and that includes those working in the cannabis industry.”

The marijuana market in Denver is prospering — the marijuana tax revenue made up 3.41 percent of Denver’s overall revenue in 2017. That figure is projected to rise to approximately 3.6 percent in 2018. In 2017, an estimated 3,250 jobs in Denver were a direct result of the marijuana industry, with another 6,000 estimated jobs resulting from secondary impacts such as related retail and service activities. Denver’s current total employment totals more than 520,000 jobs, meaning direct and indirect marijuana employment accounts for about 2 percent of the total Denver employment.

This focus on expunging convictions and improving equity in Denver’s marijuana market also follows the passage in August of Hancock’s proposal to raise Denver’s special recreational tax to 5.5 percent. These new funds are expected to double the amount of money Denver is dedicating to developing more affordable housing options in the city and create more than 6,000 additional units over the next five years.

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