New Colorado Pot Laws Could Overturn Some Old Pot Convictions

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Some people convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana could see the ruling thrown out in the grooviest state of all the states, Colorado. The Colorado Court of Appeals said today that some people whose convictions were under appeal in December 2012, when Amendment 64 took into effect, legalizing marijuana in the state, could see that decision reversed, because what they did is no longer a crime.

Colorado Judge Gale T. Miller wrote the opinion in a case where defendant Brandi Jessica Russell appealed her conviction for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, among other things. Miller argues that her conviction for that crime should be overturned, as possession of that amount of marijuana is now allowed: 

We hold, as a matter of first impression, that Colorado Constitution article XVIII, section 16 which decriminalized possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, applies retroactively to defendants whose convictions under those provisions were subject to appeal or postconviction motion on the effective date of the amendment.

According to the opinion, a "significant change in the law" allows for postconviction relief. The ruling could set a precedent that would overturn several convictions, per the Denver Post, but it's not clear how many cases are at stake: 

Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana was previously a petty offense in Colorado, and state law specifies that conviction for the offense "shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars." The appeals court's ruling can now be cited as precedent by others appealing their convictions, but marijuana advocate Brian Vicente said it is unknown how many people could be eligible for significant relief... Possession of less than two ounces of marijuana concentrate is a level-1 drug misdemeanor, according to state law."That's a serious crime," Vicente said.

Still, Vicente believes the decision is encouraging, saying, "It's promising that the appellate court is reflecting the reality that we have passed two constitutional measures allowing the use of marijuana and we need to stop the criminalization of people who act within these laws." 

A spokeswoman for Attorney General John Suthers said prosecutors are looking over the opinion to determine what to do next.  

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.