A trend is developing in courtrooms across the nation: juries are hesitant to convict individuals for simple marijuana cases. Recently, after discovering that a defendant was being prosecuted for marijuana possession, the uproar from the jury led the prosecutors to drop the charges. The defense attorney in the case explained that the jury “felt marijuana should be legalized.” The growing distaste for harsh marijuana punishment is only gaining momentum in the wake of Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational use of marijuana in 2012.
While that case is not the standard outcome, it is also not an isolated incident. In another case, in which the defendant was charged with possession of one sixteenth of an ounce marijuana, so many jurors protested at charges being pursued that the prosecutor was pressured into offering a plea bargain.
In yet another case, a jury acquitted a man of marijuana cultivation, even though there was more than enough evidence to find him guilty. The judge in that case told the jury that “even if you find that the State has proven each and every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you may still find the defendant not guilty if you have a conscientious feeling that a not guilty verdict would be a fair result in this case.” The jury apparently had “a conscientious feeling” and decided not to convict and imprison a man for personal marijuana cultivation.
Multiple factors play into the growing number of acquittals in marijuana cases. Along with rapidly changing public opinion, prosecutors face overwhelming caseloads and generally concentrate their time, energy, and resources on more serious crimes.
Obviously, prosecutors will not stop doing their jobs when the police arrest someone for violating a marijuana law. But these recent developments mean that marijuana defendants have a better chance at winning in court than ever before if represented by a lawyer willing to fight to the end.