Sunday, January 17, 2016
You know that cannabis is getting legitimate when the American Bar Association starts touting it as a great practice field for new lawyers. The new edition of the ABA's Law Practice Today has an introduction to the topic by Neil Juneja, a founder of GleamLaw, one of the nation's first cannabis-focused law firms. It's a pretty good place to start.
Cannabis is the new hot topic of conversation, moving from the smoky dorm to the board room. The green rush is on, and, and as any gold rush of the past, there is good business in selling the picks and shovels to those seeking their fortunes. Coupled with the most difficult legal market for aspiring and new attorneys in the nation’s history, marijuana law is also a hot topic in law schools and in CLEs.
Marijuana is now legal for consenting adults in four states and Washington DC. Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states at the time this article was published. The international community is following suit, with an increasing number of nations decriminalizing or outright legalizing cannabis. Colorado now brings in more tax dollars from marijuana than from liquor. The momentum is clear; no matter which party conquers the 2016 presidential election, cannabis is here to stay.
While this nascent industry is growing at a pace unparalleled since the dot-com era, many large law firms refuse to service the clientele because the federal government considers marijuana to be a Schedule 1 drug, as defined by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Sam Kamin and Eli Wald of the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law are two of the top thinkers on issues relating to marijuana legalization and the issues it raises for lawyers. A year or two ago they published "Marijuana Lawyers: Outlaws or Crusaders?" in the Oregon Law Review. (If you're a lawyer and haven't read it, be sure to do so.)
Now they've published a brief follow-up on the issues public lawyers (those who work for governmental agencies, in particular) face, and how those can be evaluated differently from those of private lawyers. I'm not entirely convinced that the differences is as clear as they suggest, but by all means check out "Public Lawyers and Marijuana Regulation," in the Winter 2015 issue of The Public Lawyer.
Unfortunately, I've just got a PDF; the article starts on page 14. [Public Lawyer PDF]
Monday, November 24, 2014
A Michigan court of appeals has reversed the conviction of a man convicted for growing 22 marijuana plants because of a "personal diatribe" against medical marijuana that the prosecutor made to the jury.
Alger County Prosecuting Attorney Karen Bahrman is a career prosecutor with more than 30 years of experience, and her public website suggests that she's competent, caring, and level-headed. But she's battled a lot of drunk driving in the "U.P." (the frozen north end of Michigan where abusing booze is as popular as ice fishing) and she's on record as being against marijuana legalization:
From where I’m sitting, a place with a panoramic view of crimes fueled by alcohol, lives ruined by alcohol and lives lost to alcohol, its hard to understand why anyone would want to add another intoxicating and addictive substance to the legal table on the theory that its no worse than what’s already there.
The argument that surrender is warranted by the cost/benefit analysis I do understand, in fact I would prefer almost anything to the current de facto legalization of marihuana, meaning that our medical marihuana act is so broad that virtually anyone can obtain a medical marihuana card by saying the right things to the right physician; its hard to listen to long time recreational users who are otherwise perfectly healthy talk about being patients, having caregivers and taking medicine, and I’m sure its equally hard for the tiny group of seriously ill people for whom this law was supposedly intended to endure our skepticism.
That's a subject on which reasonable people can differ. But it appears that Ms. Bahrman went a little over the top in making her views known to a jury:
During her closing argument, Alger County prosecutor Karen Bahrman criticized the medical marijuana law and attacked the credibility of a local group, the Alger Hemp Coalition, which she said has a "vision for the country where everybody can walk around stoned."
"They do nothing to support the government services they want, and have nothing but criticism for the government services they don't want," Bahrman told the jury. "We're trespassers and tramplers of their rights right up until they need us to protect them from the violence that they attract to the community."Heminger had a medical marijuana card, but there was evidence that he was growing an excessive amount, possibly to sell or use, the appeals court said.
Nonetheless, his right to a fair trial last year was violated by the prosecutor's "unfounded, irrelevant and inflammatory statements," the court said in an opinion released Friday.
"The prosecutor's closing argument was clearly and thoroughly improper," the court said. "The prosecutor embarks on a political commentary, and a personal diatribe discrediting the (law) as a whole. … She calls the act 'meaningless,' and suggests that those suffering from chronic pain are simply cheating the system."
I started life as a litigator and I sympathize with how easy it is to get carried away. Sounds like the court of appeals got it right. Whether jurors are entitled to disregard the law is an interesting question (which we call "jury nullification") but there's no doubt prosecutors aren't supposed to tell jurors to ignore the law. [State v Heminger opinion PDF here.]
H/T Chris Lindsey