Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a social equity bill into law on June 30 that will also enable him to issue mass-pardons for people with minor marijuana possession convictions.
Earlier in the month, June 15, Colorado lawmakers had passed a House Bill that sought to make the marijuana industry more accessible to people of color and those who’d previously been convicted on low-level cannabis charges.
The House Bill expanded social equity programs for cannabis business licenses to Colorado residents who’ve been subject to civil asset forfeiture from a marijuana arrests or who live in areas designated as high crime or economically disadvantaged.
“For decades now, the Black community has been disproportionately criminalized because of marijuana while others have profited,” said Rep. James Coleman (D-Denver) who sponsored the bill.
Colorado Pardons Cannabis Convictions
Then, in a last-minute move, per the Denver Post, lawmakers agreed to add another component to the bill: give Gov. Polis the power to mass-pardon Colorado residents for convictions of weed possession of 2 ounces or less, rather than making people go through the lengthy process of seeking pardons on an individual basis. An estimated 10,000 convictions could be eligible.
Though Democratic house member, Rep. Jonathan Singer, said they added the amendment after the pandemic forced him to drop plans for a previous, more extensive marijuana expungement bill, the Black Cannabis Equity Initiative and Colorado Black Round Table had written to Gov. Polis urging the immediate release of low-level cannabis offenders and records expungement before the signing.
Either way, Polis signed the bill on June 28, 2020 in front of the Simply Pure Dispensary in Denver, along with dispensary owner Wanda James and Scott Durrah, the first Black couple in the country to own a dispensary.
“Social equity is about righting the wrongs of the drug war and giving diversity a strong foothold in the developing industry. We all know the drug war unfairly targeted people and communities of color,” James said in a press release. “Too many people who look like me were not given a fair opportunity to participate due to the prohibitive policies that target people of color many states, including Colorado, embraced early.”
James, who founded Simply Pure with her husband Durrah in July 2010, added on a Facebook post: “That time Governor Polis gave me the Bill Signing Pen! After all my years in politics, this was the first time I received the Pen. And receiving it for Colorado’s Social Equity Bill was even more of an honor.”
Polis, governor of Colorado since 2019, also appeared delighted.
“There’s too many people that have a prior conviction for personal amounts of cannabis fully legal today that prevent them from getting loans, from getting leases, from raising capital, from getting licenses, from getting jobs, from getting mortgages, and that’s wrong,” said Polis, who added that he can begin offering the pardons in 90 days.
“We hope that this measure will be a first step for new opportunities for thousands of Coloradans who should not be living with a cloud over their head simply because they were a little bit ahead of their time.”