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Denver to make it easier for 10,000 marijuana convictions to be cleared

FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, file photograph, a worker waters marijuana plants at the Colorado Harvest Company in Denver. Denver officials say a new program will make it easier for people to clear low level marijuana convictions prosecuted before its use became legal in Colorado. Under the partnership between the Denver district attorney, the city and the county, people seeking to clear their records will be led through the process by the offices' staff.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

A simplified program will make it easier for thousands of people to seek the elimination of low-level marijuana convictions that occurred in Denver before recreational use became legal in Colorado, officials said Wednesday.

Mayor Michael Hancock said the change “is about equity for our communities of color and individuals who were disproportionately impacted by low-level marijuana convictions that are no longer crimes in Colorado.”

Based on a review of digitized court records between 2001 and 2013, Denver officials have estimated 10,000 convictions could be eligible.

The new program requires people seeking help clearing their convictions to fill out an online form or attend an event. Prosecutors working for the district attorney or city attorney will then seek court approval to dismiss the convictions and seal court records.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann called the effort a matter of “justice and fairness.”

Colorado was among the first states to broadly allow the sale and adult use of marijuana in 2014, but cities elsewhere have led the way on automatic expungement of past convictions.

Seattle, San Francisco and some prosecutors in New York City last year rolled out programs to toss hundreds of marijuana convictions, saying now-legal activity should not bar people from getting jobs or finding housing.

States also have sought solutions to the problem. Washington state’s governor announced this month that he would pardon thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession, and Michigan’s governor has said she would consider a similar approach.

California has a new law requiring the state Department of Justice to provide lists of marijuana convictions eligible for erasure or reduction to local prosecutors.

Colorado currently allows people to petition courts to remove marijuana offenses, including possession, from their records. Advocates have criticized that approach because it puts the onus on people with convictions and can become expensive and time consuming.

Denver officials said Colorado law doesn’t allow them to take the kind of sweeping action used in other cities. So they said they decided to make the state’s process of petitioning courts easier for people who want to eliminate convictions.

Denver’s new program still requires people to take the first step toward clearing their records, either by filling out a form online or attending an event set up by the city.

The Denver district attorney or city attorney will then seek court approval for the convictions to be eliminated and follow up with state agencies to make sure records used by employers, landlords and others during background checks have been updated.

Most people will not be required to pay anything to have their convictions eliminated. The Marijuana Industry Group that represents growers, sellers and other sector businesses is helping cover court fees.

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