UPDATE: The petition failed to receive enough signatures to be placed on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot.
For the last several months, organizers and volunteers from the group Oklahomans for Health have been pounding the pavement around the state of Oklahoma trying to get signatures for a November ballot initiative to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The deadline for the petition is Friday, Aug. 15 and according to a Fox 25 report, as of Aug. 4 group has acquired 130,000 of the 156,000 signatures required to get the initiative on the ballot.
If Oklahoma eventually legalizes the use of medical or commercial marijuana, how many people previously arrested for weed crimes will be let out of prison?
The answer, more than likely, will be zero.
Sad to say, if you are in prison for committing a crime, then you’ll stay in prison whether or not the crime you’re convicted of is overturned. The American criminal justice system says if you were arrested for possession of marijuana when it was illegal, then you committed a crime and must serve your time.
Whether or not the old law was overturned is immaterial. The fact is, at the time it was illegal.
Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
Let’s take a look at Colorado’s laws, for instance. Marijuana is “legal” in Colorado now, but, according to the attorney general, that means prosecutors should “not interfere with marijuana commerce as long as it adheres to state law and meets certain other conditions.”
That doesn’t help the 210,000 incarcerated in Colorado for marijuana crimes over the past 25 years. Although the state legalized the commercial sale and use of marijuana, those people arrested before the law went into effect have no recourse.
This has raised some thorny legal issues in that state.
The United States is one of a handful of countries that does not engage in what is called “retroactive ameliorative relief” in sentencing procedures. This means that when a law is passed to eliminate the punishment for a crime, then those serving time for that crime don’t receive a pardon.
Congratulations, America. We’ve joined extreme regimes like Oman, South Sudan, Myanmar and Pakistan in our harsh sentences.
So what can we do to change this if Oklahoma decides to legalize commercial and medical marijuana?
Lawmakers will have to specifically include amelioration in the law. They will have to jump down from their “tough on crime” high horse and give relief to those already serving sentences for something that will, eventually, become legal.
The good news is that the majority of prosecutors in Colorado and Washington, where pot is legal, said they will not pursue investigations into existing marijuana crimes.
For those already convicted, however, no relief is in sight.
Regardless of what happens in November, marijuana is still illegal in Oklahoma. If you’re arrested for marijuana possession, contact the law firm with the knowledge and the experience to defend your rights.