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Marijuana POWs in Colorado Could Soon Go Free

Colorado approves landmark retroactive reversal of pot convictions.
 
 
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Colorado residents who were charged with cannabis possession prior to legalization are eligible to have those charges overturned, after an Appeals Court ruling on March 13. A three-judge panel determined that part of a Colorado woman’s 2011 sentence for drug possession should be undone, due to the “significant changes in the law,” that have come about since then, according to RT.com.

Possession of up to one ounce of pot became legal in Colorado on Jan. 1, 2014, leaving tens of thousands of Colorado residents convicted of marijuana possession stuck in an ambiguous legal middle ground, as what they had done was no longer a crime in Colorado, but remains illegal federally. The Appeals Court decision begins to clear away that confusion.

Brian Vicente, who helped write the referendum that legalized cannabis in Colorado, called the ruling “a huge victory,” according to the AP. It remains to be seen how many convictions are affected by the ruling, but the decision may be the biggest sign yet that marijuana legalization will have wide-reaching effects on the criminal justice system.

Prior to legalization, over 9,000 people were arrested annually for cannabis possession in Colorado alone, according to RT.com. Legalization creates a huge opportunity for law enforcement from the courts to the police to focus on crimes that actually endanger the public. While much has been made of the tax revenue Colorado reaps from legal marijuana, the state may save even more than it is making by getting nonviolent drug offenders out of jail.

Colorado has had to make a series of choices around its voters’ decision to defy federal law and legalize cannabis, and it has generally sided with the voters’ position, not the federal government’s. A recent decision by the Colorado Supreme Court allowed lawyers to represent cannabis merchants in Colorado without fear of sanction for representing someone they knew to be breaking the law. Clearly the Colorado judicial system values the will of its voters, and believes that marijuana legalization is here to stay.

Owen Poindexter is a freelance writer. See his work at owenpoindexter.com and follow him @owenpoindexter.