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A fully budded marijuana plant ready for trimming is seen at the Botanacare marijuana store ahead of their grand opening on New Year A fully budded marijuana plant ready for trimming is seen at the Botanacare marijuana store ahead of their grand opening on New Year's day in Northglenn, Colorado Dec. 31, 2013. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)  

Appeals court: Colorado’s legal pot laws can be applied retroactively

Colorado’s marijuana legalization not only spares recreational pot users from arrest and prosecution, but it could also wipe clean the records of thousands of people who were busted before it went into effect.

The Colorado Court of Appeals recently tossed out a marijuana possession conviction against a defendant who was charged nearly two years before the law went into effect.

“Amendment 64,” the ruling states, “by decriminalizing the personal use or possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, meets the statutory requirement for ‘a significant change in the law’ and eliminates and thus mitigates the penalties for persons convicted of engaging in such conduct.”

The ruling means that the end of marijuana prohibition can be applied retroactively. How exactly the precedent will be applied — and how many people will be affected — remain open questions.

“I think there are thousands of people who could potentially have their convictions overturned,” attorney Sean McAllister told the Denver Post. He said the ruling could apply to anyone with an appeal pending on marijuana charges filed before Amendment 64 went into effect, or whose window to appeal such cases is still open.

Even those with much older convictions could try to have them overturned, attorney Jeff Gard told the Post, although it will be more difficult for cases in which the statute of limitations for appeals has run out. But it’s still possible, he said.

“Anybody who was walking down the street didn’t know they had the opportunity to appeal until this ruling came out,” he told the Post.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers is appealing to the Supreme Court, so the speculation may end up being moot. And if the appellate court ruling ultimately stands, it probably won’t result in many, if any, convicts being released from prison.

Prior to legalization, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana was one of the state’s lowest infractions, earning offenders a $100 ticket. But possession of marijuana concentrates carried a higher penalty. The defendant in the case under appeal faced four years of supervised probation because she was charged with possessing concentrates.

“It is highly unlikely that there is anyone incarcerated at this time strictly for possession of marijuana concentrate of less than one ounce,” Suthers said in a statement to the Denver Post.

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