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The Training of Law Enforcement and The War on Medical Marijuana

Recently, I conducted a Preliminary Hearing on a felony arrest by a local law enforcement agency (which shall go nameless). The person arrested was a member of a medical marijuana collective and was stopped for a traffic violation, after which his car was searched and the deputy found 817 grams (About 1 ½ pounds) of marijuana in the trunk.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the criminal justice system, when a person is charged with a felony, there are basically six court appearances involved;

  • The arraignment,

  • Pretrial conference,

  • Preliminary hearing,

  • Felony arraignment,

  • Felony pretrial conference

  • Trial.

If you are in custody this process happens fairly quickly because you have the right to have your case heard in an expeditious manner in the event you are locked up. (Some major crime cases involving multiple defendants can go on for months despite the fact that you are in custody – especially if you are looking at a long-term prison sentence.) If you are released on your own recognizance or you post bail and are released, the case can go on for several months. The sense of URGENCY by the DA or your lawyer is far less than it would be if you were locked up. (This article is not about a lawyer’s tactics)

The kicker is this: During the Trial phase - on cross-examination, I asked the deputy if he received any training regarding medical marijuana and the laws and regulations regarding the use and possession of medical marijuana. His answer, while under oath, was simply: “No”. People are being arrested for possession of amounts in excess of one ounce and being charged with either transportation or possession for sale. The plain truth of the matter is that very few law enforcement agencies, whether police or prosecutorial, are receiving any training regarding the laws concerning MMJ.

What this means for MMJ Growers, patients and caregivers is;

  1. Patients, caregivers, growers and collectives must be extra careful in the manner in which they conduct themselves. This means don’t carry medicine unless it is necessary. Carry only the amount needed for yourself or the patient you are caring for. Be careful regarding traffic laws. Do nothing to draw attention to yourself. (the smell of MMJ is enough for reasonable cause)

  2. Patients, as well as growers, should be financially prepared to go through the motions and defend themselves if they are arrested. This means being able to either hire a lawyer or be part of a PrePaid program that offers a legal defense.

Throughout history, there have been many causes that now are part of our culture and are now looked upon as ordinary. In the middle of the last century, racism was rampant in the south. Because of a few activist icons and a huge wave of public opinion with the cooperation of a handful of elected officials, racism is no longer acceptable and is now considered counter-cultural. The same is true for sexuality. 35 years ago, same-sex couples were unheard of and homosexuality was ill-treated. The country is still sorting out the issue in the courts, but the wave of public opinion seems to be that people should be able to be who they are.

Medical marijuana is no different. The plain fact is 75% of the population in the United States feels that people who have some type of medical issue that can be treated by medical marijuana should be able to have access to it. Marijuana is not physically addicting and is certainly not as harmful as cigarettes or alcohol. Moreover, according to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 80,000 deaths each year in the U.S. are attributable to excessive use of alcohol. However, we find no figures concerning death from an overdose of marijuana.
That is not to say that there are no problems with the misuse of marijuana. According to the Surgeon General, children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the drug's behavioral and psychological effects. The "amotivational syndrome," characterized by a pattern of energy loss, diminished school performance, poor parental relationships, and other behavioral disruptions has been associated with marijuana use by young people. How many alcoholics began drinking when they were teenagers? How many smokers began smoking when they were teenagers? How many people are addicted to opium-related pain meds which are approved by the FDA? The bottom line is, if you make up your mind as a teenager to be a responsible productive citizen, you will be. If you just want to be a loser, you will be.

Which brings me to my conclusion…. The legal acceptance of medical marijuana will require a cultural change. Cultural change requires that law enforcement suffer the consequences of their failure or refusal to accept the wave of public opinion. Those consequences are going to be in the courtrooms. Unfortunately, change in the court system costs money and requires persistence. As a medical marijuana patient if you want to be left alone so long as you do not pose a threat to society, then we must be aggressive in the court systems. That means when an officer arrests you and testifies that they have received no training regarding the laws on medical marijuana, the arresting officer and his department must be given an incentive to include such training with continuing education. Nothing happens without an incentive. In this case, the incentive will have to be negative reinforcement. A not guilty verdict!

There is power in numbers. No one person can fight the government the police department or the court system alone. If every medical marijuana patient in California contributed a few dollars a year to organizations like EMMAcal so that lawyers could pursue cases for false arrest our culture will change.