Thousands of people in the state of Colorado with minor marijuana convictions could be pardoned at once in 90 days after Governor Jared Polis signed into law a new bill on Monday.
Under a broader cannabis social equity bill that state lawmakers passed earlier this month, the governor was also granted the authority to unilaterally mass-pardon Coloradans with minor marijuana possession convictions instead of pardoning individuals on a case-by-case basis.
“There are 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,” Polis said at the signing ceremony, which unfolded at Simply Pure, a black-owned dispensary in Denver.
Polis added that he hopes the measure will be a “first step” for the thousands of Coloradans who lived “with a cloud over their head” for possessing marijuana, which has been legal in the state since 2012.
“This bill will give me the ability to offer those convicted of possession of up to two ounces of marijuana – it’s the same amount permitted to medical patients in Colorado today – a pardon that will begin in 90 days pursuant to the signature clause,” Polis said.
The legislation also seeks to grant social equity licenses for people looking to start a cannabis business in Colorado.
In order to qualify for the social equity licenses, applicants need to have either lived in certain designated communities for 15 years between 1980 and 2010, have been convicted of a marijuana charge or be closely related to someone who has been arrested for similar offenses, or have an income below a certain threshold.
According to a recent study, nearly 75% of Denver’s cannabis businesses are owned by whites. The new bill could help tackle Colorado’s lack of diversity in the cannabis industry at a time of increased scrutiny of race relations and economic justice for African-Americans.
A number of U.S. states have included social equity provisions in their respective marijuana legalization bills, out of which California, Illinois, and Michigan have the most advanced programs.
In California, local governments provide disadvantaged individuals entering the cannabis business with loans, grants, and technical assistance.
Michigan, which legalized recreational weed in 2018, decided to slash licensing fees for people hailing from communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs, while Illinois also provides low-interest loans and grants to similar individuals.