Retroactive - before a law goes into effect

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Sat Nov 10 18:29:15 UTC 2012

Washington State has just passed a law allowing recreational use of marijuana, so that possession of up to one ounce is legal according to state law. The law will take effect on December 6.

Of course, the prosecutors currently have people who have been caught with marijuana, and the prosecutors in two counties have decided to drop all those cases (where a small quantity of marijuana is the only issue).

Seattle Times staff writer Jonathan Martin writes, "On Friday, the elected prosecutors of King and Pierce counties, the state's two largest, announced they will dismiss more than 220 pending misdemeanor marijuana-possession cases, retroactively applying provisions of Initiative 502 that kick in Dec. 6."

I suppose you can argue that the OED covers this: "Retrospective; spec. (of a regulation, enactment, etc.) extending in scope or effect to matters or actions which have occurred in the past. In predicative use freq. with to and a date."

But here, the law is being applied retroactively and it hasn't even taken effect yet, which seems to be a slight stretch of the normal use.

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA

The American Dialect Society -

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