At the start of the symposium I attended last Friday in San Francisco held by the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers (VLC), the moderator wondered what the demographics of the room were. After some hand-raising, it was determined that the audience could be broken down to about 65% lawyers, 25 % politicos, and I say the rest of the 21% (I say 21% because some of the attendees weren’t exactly all there) were either activists, writers or interested Potheads.
The VLC mission statement: Lawyers and judges working for an open, honest evaluation of our drug control laws.
The topic for the afternoon; Marijuana and Federalism: California, a test case. The legal implications of Proposition 19.
The moderator made it clear that they weren’t there that afternoon to discuss whether Marijuana was good or bad. The two-hour discussion wasn’t going to be about the merits or drawbacks of WEED, but what could we expect if Prop. 19 does pass.
The very esteem panels consisted of knowledgeable and well-informed lawyers and judges with a deep background in issues surrounding drugs and in particular, Marijuana. The two hours were split between two separate panels. The first panel dealt mainly with discussing the legal issues in greater details with an emphasis on precedent and what parallels could be drawn from prohibition. The second panel besides for the three lawyers on board, also had Assemblyman-about-town Tom Ammiano and maybe the most dynamic person to come out of this crazy time we call-the move for Legalization, the sheriff of Mendocino County, Tom Allman.
The second panel, even though the whole perspective was on the legal ramifications if Prop. 19 passes, dealt more with social or morality of the law concerning Legalization. I’ll go in more detail about that in a few…
There was about a hundred and twenty of us sitting in the audience, including Richard Lee (with whom the panel checked many times with Richard to see if their facts were correct concerning the law and its nuances.)
I have nothing against lawyers. I don’t think they’re all sharks or despicable people who only see a profit or what is in it for them concerning client’s lives. I do not make lawyer jokes. With that being said, while I found the afternoon informative and even illuminating, there was something very mental gymnastic about the whole proceedings. It felt like Oxford University circa, 1918. What if India gets their independence? Could they handle it? I’m being a little harsh, but the ‘what if’ axiom becomes somewhat academic with distance. I want to see it happen in November, in a real way.
Each panel member was allowed about twelve minutes to speak. The first panel discussed what the main issues that might be confronted. It wasn’t a surprise for anyone in the room, layperson or lawperson, the argument that is below the surface of this whole debate is-State’s rights versus Federal rights. (I just noticed there isn’t a possessive apostrophe in Federal, that how strong they are.)
Again, the first panel consisted of a former head of the BAR, a gentleman who argue before the Supreme Court, defending Marijuana (I’m simplifying) and a couple legal-heads who you could tell, twenty years ago they all wore pony-tails, who all were donating their time and were very interesting.
But the second panel rocked.
Tom Ammiano, the main power in the house getting Marijuana Legalize, opened. Guvanator Ahnold had just released a statement minutes before Mr. Ammiano came to the podium, endorsing the rights for Gays to marry. Mr. Ammiano after reading the press release aloud to the group said, “Where the fuck were you for the first two votes.” The audience went nuts. He rattled off a bunch of stuff we needed to know about Prop.19 and even though the discussion that day wasn’t about Marijuana as medicine or not, Mr. Ammiano ended his time with the succinct quote, “Just leave our shit alone, that’s all we want.”
Then another three people spoke. These speakers introduced some of the relevant issues that are going to be up for grabs (I say it like that because I swear that nobody knows what is going to happen) like child endangerment. Right now if Mommy and Daddy get busted for growing WEED, they can lose their kids for being reckless and exposing kids to evils of blah, blah, blah. Here’s a good one: Rental law. You will need your landlord’s permission to grow Dope on their property. Leases will need to be gone over and include new agreements. Don’t forget to have your renter’s insurance protect your WEED too. I’m not kidding.
Again the issue of Feds vs. the States is brought up again and again in different ways and situations.
If Prop.19 passes, it will be up to the fifty-eight counties of California how the whole WEED is legal thang is going to roll out. For example, some counties may allow growing and cultivation, but not selling. Some counties may not allow transporting the product via their roads. It could happen.
The speakers said that they are going to make an audio version of the afternoon available. I wish I could go over in detail everything I heard. I can’t, but I recommend you trying to find the audio of this event. I will post something as soon as I find a link.
The speaker of the afternoon, after the frank, honest, refreshing spiel of Tom Ammiano was Sheriff Tom Allman. IMHO, this guy is going to be the head of anything he wants in ten years time. Not only is he dynamic and oozing political cache, he’s hard not to like. He had the tough gig of being the only person on the panel to represent law enforcement and in some quiet way, the Feds. If not the Feds outright, he brought their voice into the room on a very logical basis.
He made it clear; the Feds could come in and say this whole state is illegal. Even if we vote for Legalization, it doesn’t mean it’s legal in the United States. And to show how unafraid he was not to take a stand, before this evidently clear Pro-Legalization group, he made it obvious that he was against Legalization.
Side-bar; The Sheriff after saying his was against the Legalization of WEED said, “I bet this doesn’t make me very popular in the room. I don’t think many of you here today would vote for me.” That’s when Tom Ammiano chimed in, “I don’t know, are you gay?” There were big laughs from everyone in the room including the Sheriff Tom who was caught slightly off guard with the comment.
The Sheriff made his case against Legalization very clear.
1) The stench. Most of the calls he receives in his office is neighbors complaining about the smell. If two properties butt up against each other, and one’s growing Ganja and the other garden is raising roses or gardenias, the garden growing WEED has more rights behind it that your average backyard-horticulturist has.
2) The problems concerning transportation as stated above. Some counties will allow transportation, others won’t. It will be left to the local level and the local cops to enforce. This puts police in the awkward position of defending laws that have very little cohesiveness.
3) And 4) Violence!
The Sheriff made it clear in his experience (and it is vast) that Drugs leads to Money, and Money leads to Violence. Boom goes the cannon. End of Story. He could stop there. Not only all the violence that comes with drugs and the like, but he has to deal with Home Evasions. I am going to do a special column on this later, because of the insidious nature of these animals that are armed to the teeth, ready to ripped-off the first easy grower they see. They’ll hit twenty patches or homes in an evening. It’s big.
Sheriff Tom ended his time with a slightly more optimistic finale than negative tact he took in the beginning. He took the analogy of speeders on Highway 101. The police know that a majority of the drivers on the freeway are speeding as he is giving this talk now. This doesn’t mean he and his troops are going to shut down the freeway system. They’re just going to tag the speeders as they can. That is their job. Not to make laws. They’re going to do the same with whatever happens in November.
I came away with a couple of things from the meeting. The first thing is; NOBODY KNOWS WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. The courts are going to be busy. Also if it does pass- just like Prop. 8 being struck down, the other side will start the appeal process. Legalization will go before the Supreme Court in time.
The debate of State’s Rights and the Feds will rage and rage. Right now we look the other way when it is convenient (Banking laws is just one issue caught in the headlights that blinds us.) And the secret word in the room that can never be uttered, Interstate. As soon as those words are spoken, all hell breaks loose. That takes the issue and magnifies it from counties to states.
Vegas is eight hours from Salt Lake City. The variance between their alcohol laws is as staggering as the differences between the Obama administration and George W. Bush’s.
It was brought up by a member of the first panel that we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if a Republican was in office now.
In closing, I had dinner with another lawyer Saturday night. He asked who represented the Feds at the symposium. I said that there wasn’t anyone on the Federal level that spoke.
He then asked, “How can you have a conversation about Legalization without the Feds being represented?