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New Denver program can make old marijuana conviction disappear

After Dane Jordan was convicted of illegally growing marijuana 13 years ago, he gave up his dream of becoming a psychologist. After all, medical boards don’t readily hand out Ph.D.s to convicted felons.

He couldn’t rent certain apartments. He didn’t even bother applying to most jobs.

Jordan’s life was altered irrevocably by his decision to grow a few plants with no product on them. And years after his conviction, he continued to suffer the repercussions of a law that no longer existed.

“It basically destroyed my whole life,” Jordan said.

Dane Jordan waits to meet with ...

Kenzie Bruce, Special to the Denver Post

Dane Jordan waits to meet with Denver Chief Deputy DA Michael Song at the city’s Turn Over a New Leaf program on May 18, 2019.

But on Saturday, Jordan sat down at a folding table in the Denver Broncos Boys and Girls Club in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood and took the first step toward wiping the drug offense off his record. He became the latest participant in the city’s “Turn Over a New Leaf Program,” an effort to help those convicted of low-level marijuana offenses prior to legalization start fresh. Denver’s initiative, along with a similar program in Boulder, are the first of its kind in the state.

Since the program launched in February, 84 people have qualified to get their convictions completely erased. Saturday marked the program’s fifth and final in-person clinic — although people can still apply online and city officials said they can plan more clinics if there’s enough interest. The program has no end date.

Jordan, 35, was so excited to clear his record officially that he flew in from Massachusetts to sign on the dotted line.

“For people like me, it’s an easy path to put it behind you, to move on,” he said. “You’re no longer a criminal in the eyes of the law. It’s huge.”

Jordan first heard about “Turn Over a New Leaf” while watching the news in February.

“If that becomes real,” Jordan thought, “I’m going to sign up.”

On Saturday, Jordan, with his brother and young niece watching from folding chairs across the gym, sat down with a Denver city attorney to finalize his paperwork. The entire process is free, thanks to contributions from the Marijuana Industry Group and others.

When the city announced the program three months ago, officials estimated 13,000 people would be eligible, although they expected a smaller number to participate. To date, 323 people have applied to the program, according to city data, but nearly two-thirds of the applicants have been ineligible, mostly because their convictions were outside of Denver, officials said.

Eric Escudero, spokesman for the city’s Department of Excise Licences and Office of Marijuana Policy, said that, compared with other cities with similar programs, Denver has performed well. He admitted, however, that it’s been a challenge reaching everybody who could benefit from the program. For some, maybe it hasn’t affected their lives. For others, there’s the trust factor with going back to the same government that slapped charges on them in the first place.