Despite Legalization, Thousands of Americans Still Go to Jail–and Need Lawyers to Defend Them

The temptation is to celebrate the enormous progress we have made over the last few years by legalizing marijuana for medical use in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Even more importantly, we’ve legalized marijuana for all adults in Colorado and Washington.

Thus, it’s easy to presume we’re getting near the finish line in this decades long struggle to legalize marijuana.

But that would be both presumptuous and premature.

The reality is that marijuana smokers remain the target of aggressive and misguided law enforcement activities in most states today. They read about the newly-won freedoms in a handful of states, and dream of the day when their state laws will become more tolerant; but they are still being busted in large numbers and have to worry that that next knock on the door may be the police with a search warrant, about to destroy their homes and wreck their lives, looking for a little weed.

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23 thoughts

  1. Me thinks some of the resistance cannabis
    is getting is due to the powers that be
    are fearful that after cannabis is legal, then
    common sense people will focus on another
    issue that is seriously out of whack.
    Thus actually giving power to the people.
    This is when the revolution gets started.
    so they flex their muscles on cannabis
    to keep us in tow.

  2. What really makes the Law Enforcement misguided is the fact there are parking lots in bars, even though drinking and driving is illegal. I realize there are supposed to be drink limits, but anybody who believes bars stick to that is either naive or never stepped foot into one. We should all collectively sue our cities for putting is into danger.

  3. Personally, I hate cops (although I know some are good people), and most people I know feel the same way. It is a shame that Americans generally fear law enforcement personnel rather than believing that they are there to “protect and serve”. The only thing many are protecting and serving is themselves!

    I’ve long believed that many cops were previously schoolyard bullies who have gone on to make a career out of harassing people. It’s pretty disgusting…

  4. If you have been arrested or know someone who has been arrested for marijuana posession;
    1) Save recorded evidence from cell phone cameras, pictures from damage, emails, documents, receipts; SAVE EVERYTHING. Local law enforcement might not be helpful, but the evidence may help in your CIVIL SUIT.
    2) Take care of your laptop and backup pictures and evidence. 1 out of 3 defendants get their laptop lost or stolen during legal defense.
    3) NEVER trust your lawyer. Just because you hire them doesn’t mean you trust them. A lawyer could turn evidence on you and sell you to the D.A. while on vacation, or right in front of you while whispering at the judge’s bench. Investigate your lawyer by digging up legal records, history and ask around the courthouse. If he or she is friends with the DA this could be very good if you want a plea bargain or very bad if you wish to appeal.
    4) DON’T SIGN ANYTHING. Intimidation is the tactic of law enforcement, the Department of Health and Human Services and the District Attorney’s office. Say “Speak to my lawyer,” even if you don’t have one.
    5) When pulled over, place both hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 4. Turn the cab light on if at night. Remember a cop is armed, trained, and if they’re a rookie, they’re possibly scared and a bad shot.
    5) If an officer asks to search your vehicle, answer, “Am I being arrested?” They may insist to search your vehicle. Repeat the question, “Am I being arrested?” When they say “no,” then say, “Then may I go?” And repeat the question and so on. Be polite. Be calm. But be persistent.
    6). Keep a cloud account on your cell phone. If you have time before being arrested, upload pictures (and concealed recordings 🙂 to your cloud account before they confiscate your phone. Be careful trying to hide your phone. Cops want to see your hands and don’t like quick movements.
    7) Research your criminal lawyers and keep one in your contacts list. In Texas, the Lone Star Legal Aid group is a useful contact to defend civil property forfeitures.
    8)Read your local Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Penal Code, Rules and Civil Procedures, and local court procedures. There’s PLENTY of stuff you can do yourself without a lawyer.
    9) Get your case OUT of LOCAL COURTS and IN TO an APPELLATE or FEDERAL court. If you live in states like Virginia or Texas you can forget about finding a good judge; The State has prosecutors on our tax dollar-payroll all day that can stall and switch to a corrupt judge that accepts campaign contributions with a pending, open case. Your 4th and 15th amendments are more likely going to be protected in a Federal court where they’re more concerned about your rights than the payoffs and kickbacks from state property seizures. If you’re going pro-se and defending yourself, find the proper documentation by downloading your state Civil Practice and Remedies Code. For example, if you’re trying to keep your property from being condemned in posession of the state, you need a form called a “Writ of Certiorari” or “Writ of Cert.” File this in your local District Clerk’s Office, if you’re being harrassed by the City, or in a Federal Court if you are being harrassed by the County or State. You’re effectively getting a judge from a higher court to review the case, without all the cost of appealing.
    10). If that doesn’t work, appeal. The DEA never expects anyone to face 10 to life and DO that, so the DA might just drop the case.

    Above all, people, get a vaporizer, be discreet, and donate to NORML PAC. Watch out for jealous, degenerate in-laws or neighbors who are looking to adopt kids for profit. KEEP FILES ON THEM. The best way to defend a case is don’t get caught, get active, and help change your state’s cannabis policies so we can all live in peace.

  5. AlamaminCasino,

    Who cares if there are parking lots next to bars? The only thing that should matter is whether or not the people driving their cars can do so safely or not. It doesn’t matter how much someone has in their system, if they can past a sobriety test, then they aren’t impaired and have not committed a crime. Numbers on pieces of paper are for Control Freaks.

    It does not matter if someone smoked marijuana before getting in their car or not. What does matter is whether they can safely operator said vehicle. This is the only thing police should be looking at. If they can’t find a problem with your sobriety test, then there shouldn’t be any further testing done at all–period end of story even if you smell like a blunt it is still just fishing for a technical violation. I.e. bullshit.

    Results of alcohol tests do follow a curve, but the results of using marijuana depend on the type of marijuana, the way you imbibed and how much.

  6. finish line? i think their will always be some -ass backward- counties and states that want to keep the traditions of farming cannabis users for profit.It’s so simple and lucrative,”Let’s go trap a pot smoker son,and steal his property and possessions..yee-haw! “be gentle boy”s we got a live one’-read him his rights-all this FOR A FLOWER for christ sakes!

    Those naughty homo sapiens.

    Only on planet earth.

  7. I’ve always considered bars with parking lots to be an Orwellian absurdity. A guy whose been drinking all night decides whether or not he’s sober enough to drive. What’s wrong with this picture?

    I used to play music in redneck bars. I saw people stagger to their cars after every gig. I’m surprised there aren’t far more accidents than there are.

    You can find websites that let you enter your body weight, number of drinks, etc., then your level of blood alcohol is displayed. I weigh 180 pounds. I can have 5 beers in 5 half hours. 6 in 6 takes me just over the limit. If you stick to this, you can develop a feels for how inebriated you are versus your alcohol blood level. A very useful feel to have.

    If you like to drink with people in bars, it behooves you to develop this feel. Think about it. If you kill someone or maim a child, you will wake up to that realization every day for the rest of your life.

    ‘nuf sad.

  8. @Dave

    It just amazes me that although drinking and driving is illegal, they allow people the outlet to do so. If they just said that out loud “bars have parking lots”

    I have seen people go into wal-mart and buy cases of beer and start drinking in the parking lot. Even if they have just one, that’s still pretty much open container. I am just saying if I was ever arrested for possession, I would let them know I’m going to call them every 5 minutes to let them know there MIGHT be somebody drinking and driving because the bar has a parking lot, and that I am scared to drive anywhere because of that. Of course I wouldn’t be scared to drive, but sometimes you’ve got to stoop down to there illogical way of thinking to combat it.

  9. @Dave Evans – I agree 100% with you that some arbitrary limit on how much of any substance in your body should automatically mean you are too impaired to drive!

    I am absolutely certain that I could be at, or even over, their limits for alcohol or pot and still be one of the safest drivers on the road. I have a near perfect driving record as I fast approach age 60 🙂

    Law Enforcement needs to start considering one’s true state of mind and ability instead of relying on some stupid chemistry test which really tells very little about one’s ability to drive safely.

  10. this is exactly why decrim measures, “lowest priority” ordinances and the like are all NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I’ve been smoking weed for 40 years and plan to continue for another 40 years, God willing. At 56 I think I’m old enough to decide on what’s good for me.
    I credit smoking weed for helping me stay in excellent health and making it through 3 years of grad school research papers. Nothing short of full legalization and regulation is required to uphold our constitutional rights. Obama, tear down this wall!!

  11. I can understand that some states will allow cannabis and some will not (the same thing happened with alcohol). It is hard to understand why people who live just a few miles apart (and in the same country) can be treated so differently for doing the same thing. Once a few states legalise then the others will have to drop their penalties for cannabis possession offences.

    Law enforcement could very aggressively pursue confiscation of cannabis in states that wanted to make a stand. The cannabis users would not feel welcome and move elsewhere for an easier life – there would no longer be a need for criminal proceedings. I suspect that many cannabis users are already considering moving to Washington and Colorado !

  12. Yeah, I hear you Norml. Dealing with Idaho state lawmakers will require steady nerves, and lots of heartburn medication.

  13. Consider first of all when trying to bring marijuana legalization to Idaho that Mitt Romney won this state in 2012. Idaho is very much like Wyoming, and Utah a Mormon, religious right dominated state. Getting that group out of power, in spite of several high profile scandals in the last 14 years will not be easy. Let’s go to the positive side for a moment. Maybe Governor Otter’s not such a bad guy, he voted against the patriot act after 911.

    There is, and has been a rate here in Idaho; one of alcoholism, and suicide especially here in south east Idaho, and the lack of mental health services for those in need was highly publicized in the local news. The rescission hit Idaho hard and these are issues that have affected me on a personal level. So recently when Mr. good guy Otter visited Idaho falls to announce the opening of a new mental health facility I was not impressed. This will be the model for mental health services throughout Idaho he crowed.

    What this tells me is that state lawmakers will continue to treat the idea of marijuana legalization like they often do any idea of drug law reform, as addiction and drug abuse, then roll it all together in one convenient package, and toss us pot heads in the looney bin with the rest of the fruits and nuts, then give themselves a feel good mission accomplished pat on the back, and that will be the extent of any drug law reform this state gets.

    Another aspect of this is the issue of raising the minimum wage above 7.25 an hour. Idaho Republicans are mostly against it. A good guess is that governor Otter wishes to create a corporate paradise in Idaho. The statehouse doors open wide, and the red carpet rolls out for big business leaders who would consider setting up shop in Idaho. However a working guy like me wanting to reform the state marijuana laws would get short time. And don’t mention the tax revenue gained by legalization. Idahos finances are in the black, so any activist will be sold the old saw about the social costs of drug use out weighing the benefits of any tax revenue. We don’t need the money goodby. So if you would really like to pee in a cup for 7.25 an hour come to Idaho.

    I’m sure that there is plenty of support for marijuana legalization in Idaho. but I would like very much to see a straight up legalization initiative instead of the usual medical marijuana first. I feel that this would generate a lot more interest and bring out a more people as activists.

    Irreverently yours in god forsaken Idaho thanks.

  14. AlaminoCasino, I do get what you’re saying about parking lots next to bars.

    But my point is slightly impaired is not or at least should not be criminal offense. Being too impaired to function and still trying to operator a motor vehicle with or without chemical/drug intoxication is what needs to be illegal. For example, if you’re too sick to drive, but you decide to anyway, well whats the different between that and pounding three or four shots and getting behind the wheel? It is equally bad either way.

    Nearly all of the issues with drunks coming out of bars and getting in their cars can be fixed or dealt with in ways that do not auto criminalize people. The key here, I believe is to stop drunks from getting in their cars and we did get a lot of bars off the highways; but like you say there is more that can be done. Maybe police can talk to people as they leave at closing time, and make sure folks that drank too much get a cab? Do some sobriety tests before they in the car and become criminals? Does it make too much sense?

  15. @Dave Evans – All too often it seems that the police simply want to hurt people instead of doing something that would actually help them. Your suggestion that they talk to people as they leave a bar and help them get a cab if they are too drunk to drive is what a compassionate caring person would do. That is completely out of character for the average police officer who much prefers to bully them and take them to jail.

  16. Elaine, and thus you just explained why dicks with this attitude shouldn’t be police. They are supposed fix problems and solve crimes as well as *prevent* them. They are not supposed to be the enemy.

  17. The Controlled Substance Act is the problem. Marijuana taxation and regulation is the solution.
    Asset forfeitures both domestic and international have for the last 45 years, turned are Department of “Justice” into the Mafia. The Department of “Health” and Human Services has been turned into a child trafficking operation sponsored by DEA kickbacks for closing drug related cases, private detention centers that need to meet capacity quotas for federal funding, and private adoption agencies who wish to exploit state child custody for profit.
    I am thoroughly disgusted at the political rhetoric of President Obama and Republicans Boehner, Sen. Cornyn and Gov. Prick Perry who have all exploited and blamed the child drug war refugees coming from the U.S. lead Drug War in devastated parts of Central America for “gaming the system” and getting “freebys.” As if smuggling a child thousands of miles because drug cartels armed by 45 years of U.S. Drug Prohibition are threatening to kill them is a “freeby?” Risking life and limb to end up shackled in a cage or kneeling facing a wall by armed police officers? Wow. Sounds like a real “freeby.”
    I get it that Children from non adjacent nations aren’t deported right away, but the lack of education from Americans over our responsibility to the failed state of Central America is the most disturbing example of arrogant hypocrisy Ive ever seen besides driving American Indians off their land like the state of Texas is doing to the land of the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache on the Red River border, or like the FEDS telling the Sioux they cant grow hemp. Waitaminute, who is the immigrant here?
    Our prohibition empowers the gangs that are causing this humanitarian crisis. And then our government turns around and spends a fortune to send Drug War Refugees… Children as young as four years old… home to their death? So now its not enough to cause a civil war selling guns to all sides of a conflict prohibition created, but our tax dollars are going to fly these kids home to their slaughter for a war our government created? Why spend all that money? Why dont we just hack the kids up with machetes ourselves and feed them to the rich? We could make a buffet for all the crooked cops and prohibitionists; invite Robert DuPont, Charles and David Koch, Michelle Leonhart, Senator Cornyn, Obama and Boehner and they can each drink toast full of these kid’s blood from a gold chalisse, “To prohibition!” It would be straight to the point and a heckuvalot cheaper!
    Oh, thats right, i know why we wont do that… Because prohibitionists rely on misguided bigotry and false pride to maintain the broken state of Evil we still live in.
    Right, cuz we all know how well prohibition has been “securing our borders.” Ive got a better idea; let’s tax and regulate drugs, take the power away from crooked cops, gangs and politicians and give it to innocent children like the ones we have in cages right now in Texas.
    For the past 45 years American rogue agents from the CIA, the ATF to the DEA have sold weapons to rival cartels, manipulated militaries and governments and confiscated drugs, cash and properties throughout the world, but especially Central America. In Honduras, just a few years ago, the DEA was caught by reporters dressed up as Honduran Police raiding villages at gun point looking for drugs and cash. A pregnant woman was shot by an agent in cold blood. Every time we purchase illegal drugs, we are supporting the gangs that will certainly kill these children for not joining them. Everytime we piss in a cup for some drug testing company, purchase deadly pharmacueticals for what can be cured by legal, homegrown marijuana, or are sent to prison for non violent posession charges, we are supporting the prohibition that creates dangerous drug trafficking neighborhoods from here to South America.
    If this Moveable Feast going on with drug war child refugees isnt the worst display of ignorance on the part of average Americans about our government’s responsibility for drug related violence in Central America due to made-to-fail prohibition, than i dont know what is. One thing is for sure; its the besr reason to vote and donate to NORML PAC this year. Its time to tax, regulate and spend the revenue on education.

  18. Attitudes about cannabis are still largely draconian, despite the recent advances made on the US home-fronts of Colorado and Washington state. People still think cannabis is dangerous; that it’s a gateway drug, and that only losers smoke pot. I wrote an article where the title parodies this antiquated thought-process, but the idea here is that hopefully the pendulum is now swinging in our favor:

    The Real Casualties of Marijuana Legalization:

    http://marijuanagames.org/the-real-casualties-of-marijuana-legalization/

    The problem is that supporters of cannabis legalization are still too scared to come out of the proverbial and literal closet. I am guilty of this too.

  19. For me going to jail in Arizona for 11 days for empty bottles that smelled like marijuana was a wake up call that there is still a lot more work to be done.

  20. That’s living in the U.S. for ya, lets the drunks go out and kill people and lock up the peaceful ones. Isn’t that putting the cart in front of the horse?

  21. Make bar owners responsible. Put up gates on their parking lots that you can only get out if ya can blow into a device that will allow gate to open to allow you out of the lot. Anyone messing with the system should be delt with severely as they have messed with pot smokers for years. It would generate a job for someone to be lot attendant that will make sure there is no funny business going on at the gate..like a designated blower.. their are many other technologies that can be manufactured into every car that would allow detection of an persons alcohol level. But congress won’t allow that because the wouldn’t be able to drive their own cars 90% of the time. Bottom line is as long as greedy politicians make the rules people will continue to die on our roads and highways because of them.

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