Colorado court OKs retroactive application of Amendment 64

Colorado's new recreational marijuana law can be used to challenge prior marijuana convictions under certain circumstances, the state appellate court ruled recently.

On March 13, 2014, the Colorado Appeals Court ruled that some people convicted of minor marijuana offenses prior to the state's legalization of the drug may be able to challenge those convictions in court. However, because of its narrow scope, the ruling is likely to affect a relatively small number of cases.

Case background

The recent appellate case stemmed from the 2010 arrest and prosecution of woman who was charged with possessing small amounts of marijuana and marijuana concentrate. The woman was arrested when police came to her home to investigate allegations of suspected child abuse and subsequently discovered the drugs inside the home. Although she was acquitted on the child abuse charge, the woman was convicted of possessing both marijuana and methamphetamines, which police also discovered at the home.

In 2012, Colorado voters approved a ballot measure known as Amendment 64, which provided for the legalization of possession of marijuana in small quantities for recreational use by adults age 21 and older. Because the quantities of marijuana involved in the woman's 2010 arrest would be legal in Colorado under current law, her defense lawyers argued that her conviction should be overturned.

Scope of the ruling is limited

The court agreed with this reasoning and held that Amendment 64 can be applied retroactively in certain cases. Specifically, the ruling applies to people convicted in Colorado of possessing less than one ounce of marijuana or up to six marijuana plants. Importantly, however, retroactivity applies only to convictions that had already begun the appeals process when the Amendment 64 went into effect in December 2012.

Rather than opening the floodgates for everyone who has ever been convicted of possession of marijuana in Colorado, the court's recent ruling is expected to affect only a few cases - "dozens," according to a New York Times report on the decision. Still, marijuana reform advocates are applauding the ruling as a victory and a sign of shifting attitudes among law enforcement and the judiciary with regard to recreational marijuana use.

Even in Colorado, not all marijuana possession is legal

Although Colorado made history with its progressive approach to recreational marijuana use when it passed Amendment 64, that law applies only to small amounts of marijuana - meaning that people found in possession of larger quantities of the drug can still face serious criminal charges.

When facing charges for drug possession or other drug-related offenses in Colorado, it is important to get help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with in-depth knowledge of Colorado law and the criminal justice system can help clients protect their legal rights and can be a powerful advocate in the pursuit of a favorable outcome.