Being tried in court for any crime, especially a victimless crime, is a trying process. Not just for the defendants, but for their friends, family, and supporters as well. When the crime involves medical marijuana in California, it is often the defendant who is victimized. Community support is important to help a friend get through this difficult time and to support the larger cause. ...What are the best ways to support both the cause and our friends at the courthouse? I have lots of experience as a criminal defense attorney in the courtroom. My courthouse advice for my clients can apply to their friends and supporters as well. Here are six ways you can show support during a medical marijuana case.
Weed on Trial: 6 Ways to Show Support in CourtBy Joseph TullyBeing tried in court for any crime, especially a victimless crime, is a trying process. Not just for the defendants, but for their friends, family, and supporters as well. When the crime involves medical marijuana in California, it is often the defendant who is victimized. Community support is important to help a friend get through this difficult time and to support the larger cause.As a supporter, you may want to argue or shout or rant around the courthouse about the injustice. But remember that the Defendant is fighting for their life and livelihood. THEY are the focus of the trial. Cannabis rights are important to fight for, but in court we do that by exonerating the defendants. The verdict will set the tone for how Law Enforcement or the District Attorney pursues future cases. DA's will not prosecute future cases they know they won't win.What are the best ways to support both the cause and our friends at the courthouse? I have lots of experience as a criminal defense attorney in the courtroom. My courthouse advice for my clients can apply to their friends and supporters as well. Here are six ways you can show support during a medical marijuana case.1. Be Presentable. A trial is a serious thing for all parties, and your attire will show that you also take it seriously. Clean, tidy, and put together. You don't need to wear a suit, but wear something you'd consider nice for your day to day. It will not help your cause if you show up like you are camping in Humboldt.2. Be Quiet. As a defendant, you should only speak when addressing the court. As a spectator, you should be absolutely silent throughout the proceedings. Even in the halls and on the steps, keep your voice down and discussion to a minimum, since there are ears everywhere. One careless whisper could be overheard and sink the case. The line "anything you say can and will be used against you" is not TV cop jive. Be especially cautious not to talk around jurors or potential jurors. In court we avoid even the “appearance” of impropriety.3. Be Present. Some parts of a trial can feel tedious to a defendant or spectator. My advice is: if it is important enough for you to be here today, then it should be important enough for you to keep your head in the trial. No sleeping, reading, texting, note passing, or knitting. Your degree of focus on the trial reflects your regard for its importance.4. Be Respectful. The courthouse is a workplace for hundreds of people. There are also scores of people there for their own cases. 90% of the people at the courthouse are worried about their own cases and are oblivious to yours. There are victims, jurors, social workers, clerks, and other people focused on their own issues. Respect their reality by not intruding yours on to them. This includes keeping your voice down, turning off phones, not smoking on the grounds, and not blocking doors and hallways.5. Be Careful. You and your friends might be chill, but a courthouse is full of violent people on edge. There are convicts and cops who are keyed up in this environment. There are also bad people seeking revenge on other bad people, and bad people seeking revenge on good people. Keep your eyes open and be wary of commotion.6. Be Thoughtful. A trial can be personally overwhelming for a defendant. Offer your friend support outside the courthouse. Bring them a coffee. Offer to drive their kids to school. Pick up their dry cleaning for them. Small gestures of support for everyday things will help a defendant deal with the stress of the big things.It is your right to smoke, shout, and rally for legalized marijuana, and I would defend your right to do it. But when a friend is on trial, the courthouse is not the most effective venue to demonstrate those rights. Supporting a victory for the defendant will advance the cause as well as save your friend's life and liberty.There are many organizations that support the rights of marijuana patients, as well as their caregivers, collectives, and cultivators. One in particular, The Human Solution, organizes courtroom support for defendants. Check for a chapter in your area and any actions they have planned.Joseph Tully is a criminal defense attorney at Tully & Weiss based in Northern California. He has experience defending medical marijuana cooperatives, collectives, cultivators, and caregivers on trial for helping their patients.
At a Denver City Council hearing held on Monday to discuss implementing a 5% marijuana sales tax, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey held the floor to claim that medical marijuana dispensaries are a haven for assaults, robberies, and murder.
“We have had 12 homicides related directly to medical marijuana,” Morrissey told the council. “We have had over 100 aggravated robberies and home invasions. Many of you probably didn’t read about the double-execution-style homicide that we had here in Denver… This is an ugly secret.”
Several council members expressed their shock and concern over the DA’s previously unheard-of claims. When questioned about the validity of his statistics on Tuesday, though, Morrissey clarified that he’d cited “loose figures” and that none of the homicides actually occurred at a medical marijuana facility. In reality, most of the homicides happened during home invasions, and in some cases, it is uncertain whether marijuana played a role.
Mason Tvert, communications director at MPP, spoke to The Huffington Post to help set the record straight:
“Morrissey’s suggestion that the state- and locally-regulated medical marijuana industry is somehow at fault for crimes that occurred entirely outside of its scope is ludicrous and irresponsible. I cannot imagine any other instance in which he would place blame for violent crimes on law-abiding businesses and citizens who have fallen victim to them.”
Tvert’s claim that dispensaries are not causing violent crime is backed by police statistics. In 2009, the Denver Police Department found that robbery and burglary rates at dispensaries were lower than area banks and liquor stores and on par with those of pharmacies. In 2010, police in Colorado Springs found that robbery and burglary rates at area dispensaries were no higher than at non-marijuana-related businesses. Discussing the findings, Sgt. Darrin Abbink said, “I don’t think the data really supports [dispensaries] are more likely to be targeted at this point.”
Of the robberies and assaults that have occurred, industry representatives say that medical marijuana dispensaries may only be targeted because current banking laws force them to deal in cash rather than credit.
Tvert continued, “If Morrissey is truly concerned about enhancing public safety, he should be testifying in support of policies that will eliminate the underground marijuana market and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated like alcohol. He should not be resorting to scare tactics and reefer madness.”
First, the good news: California attorney general candidate Steve Cooley conceded the election to his opponent, Kamala Harris. While Harris may not be the most outspoken supporter of Prop 215 or medical marijuana patients, she is sure to be a better option. Cooley's history of antagonism toward the medical marijuana field and complicity with federal law enforcement as district attorney of Los Angeles would have meant trouble for the state's more than 350K registered patients. Disaster averted!
Unfortunately, the marijuana-hostile legal and civic environment that Cooley helped create in Southern California resulted in Los Angeles and Orange County supervisors voting to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in all unincorporated areas. Rather than use the tools at their disposal to deal with illegal dispensaries, the supervisors elected to effectively deny patients in those areas access to their medicine unless they feel like a nice long drive (assuming they are able to travel, or even get out of bed).
L.A. County patients can take one small comfort, though. It appears that higher politics has left Cooley feeling a little burned out, judging from a statement he released suggesting that this is his last term in office:
"I will complete my third term and finish my career as a professional prosecutor in the office where it began over 37 years ago," he said.
Encouraging news from the City of Brotherly Love today: Philadelphia’s new district attorney and members of the state Supreme Court are taking steps to remove criminal penalties for people arrested with up to 30 grams (or a little more than an ounce) of marijuana. Under the new approach, those caught with marijuana would face a possible fine, but receive no criminal conviction.
“The goal,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “is to sweep about 3,000 small-time marijuana cases annually out of the main court system, freeing prosecutors and judges to devote time to more serious crimes. The diverted cases amount to about 5 percent of the caseload in criminal court.”
But in a frustrating case of two steps forward, one step back, a Philly police spokesman tells the paper, “We’re not going to stop locking people up … our officers are trained to do that. Whether or not they make it through the charging process, that’s up to the D.A. We can’t control that. Until they legalize it, we’re not going to stop.”
What a nuanced view.
Maybe someone should tell that guy how police in Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, and more than a dozen other cities have followed orders to make marijuana a “lowest law enforcement priority” with few complications or adverse consequences. Except, you know, for police having to focus their efforts on more serious crimes.
In any case, decriminalizing marijuana in Philadelphia—the sixth most populous city in the United States—would be a major boon for marijuana policy reform efforts in cities all across the country. Let’s hope it happens.