The next step for the bill was a state Senate committee hearing April 22, through which, according to NORML, the bill passed. HB 21-1090 was initially introduced by Democrat Alex Valdez, and if it gets signed into law, it will raise the possession limit for individuals up to two ounces. It will also allow former cannabis offenders who had low-level possession and cultivation charges to try to clear their records.
So far, it passed 45 to 19 in the House and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Valdez feels it will make it all the way through.
“It should come up fairly quickly, given the fact that it was pretty free of controversy,” Valdez said. “I think marijuana issues are generally starting to be non-partisan, but we got some of the more conservative folks to vote for it, too, which really shows.”
Specifically, HB 21-1090 would seal Class 3 cannabis cultivation felonies—meaning felonies for growing between 12 and 25 plants. Growing more than 12 plants would still be illegal without an extended plant count provided by a medical cannabis card, and dispensary purchases would still be limited to one ounce a day, unless the Marijuana Enforcement Division decides to change its rules. Still, this would be a huge step for the already-blooming cannabis industry.
While Valdez’s goal is eventually to automate the record-clearing process in Colorado, he wasn’t sure if it would be financially feasible this soon after the impact COVID had on the economy. The process for sealing records will involve petitioning a judge. Each person and their charges “will be looked at on their own merit” by judges.
“It allows them to petition directly to a judge instead of getting the district attorney’s sign-off,” Valdez said. “It gets very legal-eagle, because district attorneys obviously want to preserve their ability to have checks there.”
This proposal would only apply to local convictions, as opposed to the state convictions that Governor Jared Polis has already pardoned. However, he only pardoned convictions of one ounce, sticking with the legal limit. This would bring in new convictions to clear, as it would pardon anyone who possessed two ounces.
Potential Problems With HB 21-1090
Some feel that HB 21-1090 won’t do enough. Cannabis attorney Sean McAllister, who has experience defending medical cannabis patients and works as executive officer of the City of Denver’s Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel, thinks that the combination of the pardons being for such a low level, and not being automated, won’t help many people.
“Unless it has an automatic sealing provision, it’s not going to have much of an impact, but that really does cost the state money. If that’s the expense it costs for this failed immoral drug war, they should still do it, but that tends to be the deal-killer,” McAllister said, although he added, “any liberation of the possession laws or extension of the record-sealing laws is certainly progress.”
There are also other issues with the idea, like the fact that looking up old cannabis crimes can be a hurdle, unless the jurisdiction participates in the Colorado Crime Information Center. Also, many of the existing convictions are for intent to distribute, so more than two ounces, and the new language won’t really do much.
“Most people have quarter-ounce bags and half-ounces, or pounds of it, not between an ounce and 2 ounces,” McAllister added. “My personal opinion is there shouldn’t be any possession limit for adults unless they have an intent to distribute.”
It remains to be seen if this bill will make it through to officially become law and if it will make enough of a difference. But it is still a positive step for clearing past cannabis convictions and easing restrictions on legal Colorado cannabis.