Reasonable cannabis laws are a good thing, but will they inadvertently allow dangerous criminals back onto our streets?
On March 13th, 2014, The Colorado Court of Appeals issued a formal stance that convicted criminals who had charges directly relating to the decriminalization of one ounce or less of marijuana or marijuana concentrate pending appeal or post-conviction motion on or before the effective date of Amendment 64 were retroactively eligible to have their crimes and subsequent sentences reversed. This opinion of the second highest court in the state stemmed from a ruling in favor of overturning a woman’s jail sentence and giving her probation in light of the new law.
Now while this sounds all well and good for legal marijuana advocates, if one takes a bit closer look at the circumstances and implications of the ruling, there may indeed be a downside amongst the many positive and compassionate positives. The woman in question was not only caught with less than an ounce of marijuana and marijuana concentrate, both of which directly correlate to Amendment 64, but also with an unspecified amount of methamphetamine discovered on her person. As a result of the newly applicable retroactivity of Amendment 64, this woman essentially ducked a justifiable punishment for her possession of what is an irrefutably dangerous and highly destructive substance, both in terms of the individual and the society in which they use it in. John Suthers, Colorado Attorney General points this loophole out in a press release, and uses it as a point of contention in choosing to formally appeal the high court ruling, which he has not officially said his office will do, but certainly alludes to the action.
On the other hand, you can observe the exact opposite outcome of this Colorado state ruling back when prohibition was repealed in 1933 under President Roosevelt. In contrast, it was done so on a federal level, with the 21st amendment invalidating the Volstead Act, thereby no longer making alcohol illegal in the country. Prohibition reapeal still left state laws intact under Section 2 of the language however, and this meant that all incarcerated or convicted parties, irrespective of the timeline, were made to finish out and serve their sentence as per their own state’s written law on alcohol, which still recognized it as illegal to possess or consume.
The same cannot be said however for Colorado, as the issue of appeals being granted, prisoners being released, and sentences being commuted will only be effective within the state penal system, and therefore should be directly applicable since the people of the state of Colorado as a majority do not feel marijuana consumption for personal use is a crime. Every state in the union back in 1933 did not agree with the movement for repeal, and rightfully was allowed to keep and uphold its own statutes for people who had already violated their state laws. So keeping that in mind, the current national precedent and set of statutes on marijuana as an illegal controlled substance serves as no justifiable pretext to keep people in jail who are there only because they broke a previous state law that is no longer in existence.
John Suthers doesn’t speak for the people of Colorado as attorney General, they speak for themselves. But he does make a valid point that under Colorado law, retroactive application of sweeping new legal changes are only prospective unless specifically voted on by the General Assembly or the state voters, neither of which has happened thus far. Criminals should not get a free pass for harder drug possession or use under the umbrella of Amendment 64, but let that not be a smokescreen the lawmakers of Colorado hastily use to successfully block the courts from releasing those parties who are incarcerated or convicted for nothing more than possessing a substance that is perfectly legal to possess in the state of Colorado.