What Will Happen to People Convicted of Marijuana Related Offenses if Marijuana is Legalized on a Federal Level?

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There is currently a lot of debate over the legalization of marijuana across the United States. There is even talk about the federal government legalizing the drug. If this does happen, what’ll become of prisoners in jail for marijuana related offenses? Will they be released? Is it legal to keep them in jail once the drug is legalized?

As of now, ten states have made marijuana legal for recreational use. Some states did it to take advantage of the revenue it will create. Others did it based on political pressure. Massachusetts is the most recent state to legalize the drug for recreational use. New Jersey appears to be on the verge of doing the same thing.

One of the big questions is how legalization of the drug will affect people with criminal convictions for marijuana related offenses. The answer is, it depends.

What Will Happen If the Federal Government Legalizes Marijuana?

For people who’ve been convicted of federal marijuana charges, there is no good news. Even if the drug becomes legal across the board, nothing will happen to those already convicted of federal drug crimes. Basically, the United States is one of many countries that refuse to make drug laws retroactive.

If you or your loved one are already serving time for a federal conviction of a marijuana related drug offense, they’re out of luck. They won’t be released early and their conviction will not be overturned.

For criminal defendants still facing charges, it could be a different story. If the U.S. were to legalize the drug today, people still facing criminal charges may find that their charges are dismissed. However, since federal legalization of the drug is a long way off, this is not something that is likely to affect people right now.

Legalization of Marijuana at the State Level

Things are a little different for people charged with marijuana offenses at the state level. With a growing number of states legalizing marijuana for recreational use, people who have recently been charged or convicted of marijuana related offenses may have some hope.

In 2014, the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed to overturn a 2011 conviction of a woman who had been sentenced to prison for marijuana related offenses. The Court held that marijuana legislation should be retroactively applied.

The problem with this is that it’s going to create an administrative nightmare for Courts. If Courts are required to hear appeals for everyone convicted of a recent marijuana related offense, the courts will be clogged for years. It may prove easier to just use a broad brush and erase these convictions across the board rather than decide them on a case by case basis.

Other states are going to be facing the same problem. Can the Courts really justify keeping people in jail for a crime that no longer exists?

What if You’re Currently Facing Marijuana Related Charged in Your State?

If you live in a state that has recently legalized marijuana, there could be hope for you yet. For states like Massachusetts and, soon, New Jersey, there may be a chance for you to get your charges dismissed. Or, if you’ve recently been convicted, your criminal defense attorney may be able to get your conviction overturned.

For people currently on probation for marijuana offenses, it’s worth a call to your criminal defense attorney. Depending on when you were put on probation, there is a chance it can be marked completed. It depends on when you were convicted and when your state made the drug legal.

Remember, there is a difference between legalization for medicinal purposes and legalization for recreational use. Some states still require a prescription for marijuana. Most drug related offenses don’t apply if you have a legitimate and legal prescription for the drug.

Do You Have a Question of How Legalization of Marijuana Affects Your Case?

If you have a question about how legalization of marijuana affects your criminal case, contact a local criminal defense attorney today. You may have a legitimate reason to ask that your conviction be overturned. Or, you may have pending charges that you can ask to be dismissed.

Criminal defense attorneys stay on top of updated laws and legislation. It’s their job to be familiar with breaking news when it comes to the legalization of marijuana. Call and schedule a consultation with your criminal defense lawyer today!

Liz S. Coyle is the Director of Client Services for JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law. She also serves as a paralegal for the Family Law Department. She is responsible for internal and external communications for the firm.