Precedent Set In Overturning Colorado Pot Convictions05:13

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Colorado's Court of Appeals is overturning some marijuana convictions retroactively, now that recreational pot has been legalized.

Last week, the three-judge panel overturned the ruling in the case of Brandi Jessica Russel, who was convicted in 2011 of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana and possessing marijuana concentrate, among other charges.

The Court said since Russel was in the midst of an appeal when the amendment legalizing marijuana passed on December 10, 2012, her conviction should be overturned.

It is unknown how many convictions this could effect, but lawyers estimate that Colorado has prosecuted as many at 9,000 marijuana cases per year.

Cases that were in the appeals process on December 10, 2012, could be eligible to use Russel's case as precedent.

Here & Now's Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with The Denver Post's marijuana editor, Ricardo Baca about the implications of Russel's case.

Interview Highlights: Ricardo Baca

On whether Russel's case could lead to other overturned convictions

"That's not the general feeling here right now. The general feeling is that, you know, this is a big deal. This is something that everybody has been talking about since marijuana legalization became a thing, even medically speaking. But the general feeling, especially among ... the Colorado attorney general, is that this isn't going to lead to anybody being released from prison."


Why other overturned convictions aren't likely

"Previous to Amendment 64 being passed in November of 2012, holding up to an ounce of marijuana was just a petty offense, so it was a small fine — I believe $100 and no jail time. Where this could come into effect, where — possibly with the idea of holding up to an ounce of marijuana concentrate, which was considered a felony back then, but now is legal under Amendment 64. Also, say somebody was arrested, you know, and jailed for home grows — you know, for a very small home grow, maybe in the closet. Maybe they had 10 plants between a couple. That would have been illegal then; that's legal now in Colorado. So those are the things people are looking out for, but in general, the state attorney general's saying this won't lead to much, but he's still taking it to the state Supreme Court, where another major marijuana case is being looked at right now."

Why the attorney general wants to appeal the thrown-out conviction

"He wants to appeal just to make sure that this isn't used in other cases. Of course, now it can be used as precedent, and he doesn't want that to continue in future cases, whether they have to do with marijuana or not."

On reactions from marijuana advocates

"Marijuana advocates are pleased with it. They want to see these people who are either incarcerated — on especially some of the minor charges, they want to see these people freed. And it was such an issue that even one of the fake news sites, recently, they published an article saying that the Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper, was going to let some of these people out of jail, and it caused a fury. You know, the story went viral. It was totally fake, but we followed up on it and called one of the governor's aides the next say, and he said, 'Yup, we've received about 20 phone calls and emails, and we just had to gently let these people down, tell them that the article was fake, and that nothing like that is likely going to happen in the near future."


This segment aired on March 21, 2014.