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Recreational marijuana and retroactive law: Could it happen?

Ever since the legalization of recreational marijuana in states like Colorado and Washington just a few years ago, many residents here in Virginia have been wondering when our state would follow suit. After all, the motto on our state seal does imply a desire for giving people in our state considerable freedom.

But despite the introduction of a number of marijuana-related bills, no movement has been made on the legalization of the drug. Some blame the Republican-held legislature which continues to tout marijuana as a scourge akin to alcohol. But whatever the reason, there is little doubt now that a majority of residents in the state support legalization of the drug.

If the Virginia legislature does consider any of the 21 bills that have been introduced this session to legalize marijuana, there is another very important question it will need to ask: will the law be enforced retroactively?

As you can imagine, the answer to this question could have an extreme impact on those currently imprisoned for marijuana possession and cultivating charges as well as those awaiting trial for alleged crimes. If the law were to be applied retroactively, then many currently in prison could find their sentences commuted or dismissed altogether. For those awaiting trial, a retroactive application of the law could mean a dismissed trial and dropped charges.

Though supporters of criminal law reform would welcome some movement on marijuana laws in Virginia, the legislature will need to be careful about the wording and application of any new laws, especially because they could have such a significant impact on so many people. Lawyers in our state would also be wise to keep up on any changes as well considering the fact that an influx of appeals would also be possible if marijuana were legalized in our state.

Source: WVTF, "Republicans Block Marijuana Reform in State House," Sandy Hausman, Jan. 28, 2016

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