Pot Legalization Reverberates Through the Court System

Pot legalization in Colorado and Washington in 2012 was a cultural lightning strike that touched down on a legal fault line. Ever since, deep, powerful forces in the legal landscape have begun sliding and grinding. The Baltimore Sun records one such aftershock — judges are dipping below established sentencing guidelines when punishing Americans for weed crime.


“A federal judge in Maryland sentenced a defendant in a massive marijuana distribution case to about half the prison term prosecutors were seeking, saying that sentencing guidelines don’t square with the government’s current position regarding the drug,” Justin Fenton reports.

US District Judge James K. Bredar gave pot trafficker Scott Russell Segal five years, though the guidelines called for eight to eleven years.

“Bredar … said it might be more appropriate to compare the defendants in the Maryland marijuana case to smugglers of improperly taxed cigarettes.”

‘It’s not the same as dealing heroin,’ Bredar said.

Kwame Manley, a former assistant US attorney, told the Sun that many federal judges see the Department of Justice’s evolution on pot, and are responding in the way they use their discretion.

Jurors are as well. According to marijuana law reform advocate Terry Best, reporting from San Diego this Sunday, prosecutors of thrice-tried dispensary operator Jovan Jackson had to dismiss at least six potential jurors last week, after the would-be jurors said they would not convict someone for pot. Jurors can also engage in jury nullification.

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