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Three Steps Forward and a Couple Steps Back for Drug Law Reform in Colorado

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In 2010, Colorado lawmakers took a meaningful step towards drug law reform by passing House Bill 1352, which nibbles at the edges of the disastrous War on Drugs by amending some of Colorado's controlled substance statutes (see my HuffPost piece on HB 1352).

And while lawmakers continued that reform momentum this year, those efforts were tempered by other bills that expanded an already intrusive and expensive drug law regime that returns questionable public safety value.

For instance, the 2011 Colorado Legislature voted overwhelmingly to create new drug felonies (and thus new drug felons) by passing Senate Bill 134 which added synthetic cannabinoids and the naturally occurring Salvia Divinorum as Schedule I illicit drugs under Colorado's Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

The Legislature in 2011 also involved itself in human resource decision making by local school districts by passing House Bill 1121, which among other things bars those convicted of a drug felony from employment with a school for five years from the time of conviction. This despite a lack of any evidence that the hiring of drug felons by school districts is a problem in Colorado.

But in the same session where Colorado lawmakers expanded the scope and reach of Colorado's drug laws, they also passed several drug law reforms.

In this ivoices.org podcast, I interview Christie Donner about these reforms, and what they are meant to accomplish. Besides being the Executive Director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Christie is also on the Drug Policy Task Force of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ). The three bills were generated out of recommendations of the CCJJ and all have been signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper. The bills are:

Senate Bill 96, which excludes Class 6 felony drug possession convictions as a qualifying offense to be convicted under Colorado's habitual offender statute.

House Bill 1064, which establishes a presumption in favor of granting parole to an inmate who is parole eligible and serving a sentence for a drug use or possession felony that was committed before August 11, 2011 (inmates must meet other criteria related to their behavior in prison and criminal history to be eligible for the presumption).

House Bill 1167, which shortens the time frame people convicted of certain drug crimes (schedule is staggered based on the seriousness of the offense) must wait before petitioning the court to seal that criminal record.

For a more thorough explanation of these reforms give a listen here.