A staple joke from late night comedians, going back to George Carlin in the 1970s, is about how cannabis law reformers are too stoned to gather signatures and turn them in, when, ironically, or not, it is usually agents of the government who more often than not interfere with the democratic process of citizens gathering signatures in public to petition their government for grievance.
A case example from a local effort in Miami Beach to reform the city’s cannabis laws has resulted in NORML-affiliated lawyers procuring a monetary settlement with the city, that now, almost karmically, will help fund a cannabis reformer’s further advocacy.
From the law firm of NORML board member Norman Kent of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida:
The City of Miami Beach has agreed to pay a monetary settlement to marijuana rights activist, C.D. Flash, for damages he suffered during a false arrest in October, 2010. The settlement was paid as Mr. Flash was preparing to file suit claiming that his arrest was a direct violation of his First Amendment right to engage in political petitioning in public spaces.
Mr. Flash was collecting signatures for a marijuana decriminalization petition on the Lincoln Road mall when he was stopped by Miami Beach Code Enforcement and Police officers, who incorrectly informed him that he needed a permit to collect signatures.
When Mr. Flash asserted that he had the constitutional right to collect signatures in public, he was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct. Mr. Flash maintains that he was never disorderly and complied with the requests of the police, but that he insisted upon exercising his right to remain and gather petition signatures.
Mr. Flash was jailed for 24 hours a result of his arrest and was required to face the charges in court. On January 12, 2011, Mr. Flash appeared in court with his attorney, Russell Cormican, only to have the State dismiss all charges moments before the case was called for trial. The prosecutor indicated that the arresting officer, John Pereira, no longer had any recollection of the arrest, despite the fact that it had occurred less than 90 days earlier. Officer Pereira has a long history of disciplinary issues, with numerous internal affairs complaints, including one filed by the sister of singer, Beyonce Knowles.
“Mr. Flash was clearly targeted for arrest based on the fact that his political beliefs were unpopular with police officers” said Mr. Cormican, attorney for Mr. Flash. “It is very encouraging to see the City of Miami Beach offering to quickly settle this case and acknowledge the right of individuals to engage in peaceful political expression, no matter what their viewpoint is.”
Mr. Flash was working in conjunction with the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) and was gathering petition signatures for a ballot initiative that seeks to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The initiative would allow police officers to give offenders a citation in lieu arresting them if the possession was for less than 20 grams. The violation could then be satisfied with the payment of a $100.00 fine. Mr. Flash intends to utilize the proceeds from his settlement to continue working for the reform of marijuana laws.
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Mr. Cormican, and his law partner, Norm Kent, have set up CAFA, Citizens Against False Arrest, to redress grievances of citizens who are illegally prosecuted or arrested while exercising their constitutional rights of free speech.