Colorado governor could free inmates with nonviolent pot offenses

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Governor John Hickenlooper enters for his State of the State address, Jan. 11, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is exploring the idea of granting clemency to nearly 40 inmates convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses.

The Democrat tells The Denver Post that it might be a good idea to invite qualifying inmates to apply for clemency for nonviolent pot crimes. The governor's staff is reviewing the cases with the Department of Corrections.

Hickenlooper publicly acknowledged his support for the idea during a Monday interview with the streaming television channel Cheddar.

"We have been discussing this idea for some time and are carefully evaluating whether there are some inmates who are appropriate candidates for clemency," said Jacque Montgomery, press secretary for the governor.

Hickenlooper's administration has identified inmates serving time only for possessing or selling marijuana, and his attorneys are investigating the inmates' conduct in prison. After the review, qualifying inmates would be encouraged to apply for clemency.

Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. In November, the governor granted pardons to seven people convicted of marijuana possession.

In 2017, Colorado adopted a law allowing people convicted of misdemeanors for using or possessing pot to ask a court to seal those criminal records if their behavior wouldn't have been a crime under recreational marijuana legalization that went into effect in December 2012.

Possessing and home cultivation of marijuana by residents 21 and older became legal after voters passed Amendment 64 in November 2012.

Hickenlooper's clemency review differs starkly from moves by prosecutors in San Francisco to review and dismiss thousands of misdemeanor pot convictions dating to 1975, among other measures.

San Francisco acted unilaterally based on a provision in California's pot legalization law that allows those convicted of misdemeanor pot crimes to seek to have their records expunged, and to reduce felony convictions.

Prosecutors in San Diego have undertaken similar reviews.

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