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The Unconscionable War on Marijuana

Pot Injustice Pervades Public

by NORM KENT

Recently, the city of Denver said it was going to deny medical marijuana dispensaries the right to advertise on city billboards.  A few years ago, I remember other cities denying strip clubs the right to solicit on billboards as well, claiming the ads distracted drivers too much. Nothing like a little flesh to take your eyes off the road, I suppose. Today, I guess the city fathers don’t want moms and dads explaining loose joints to little boys.

On a smaller scale here in southeast Florida, the small city of Wilton Manors has decided they will not oppose my law firm’s sign being placed on a Wilton Drive Bus bench.

Society is safe, thank god.

You see, a major controversy ensued here last month, when Wilton Manors forbade an ad for my criminal defense law firm because it featured a pot leaf in it. If you are “busted,” the ad said, you are encouraged to call the Criminal Defense Law Center of South Florida, which is the fancy name I have given my law firm.

My law office partner and I decided to advertise the firm’s new name and logo, and our move to a newer office in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Often, we represent good people charged with criminal acts because of stupid laws, which long ago should have been discarded.  None are more glaring than those arrested for the use of marijuana.

Take Elvy Mussika, a Hollywood woman who grew and smoked her own pot in order to counteract glaucoma, which was causing her to lose her eyesight.  After 23 operations to remove cataracts, she discovered that the THC in marijuana reduced the intraocular pressure in her eye canals, enabling her to see without surgery.

Faced with a cultivation charge 25 years ago, in 1987, she challenged the State of Florida, saying she had a constitutional right to see, and argued her possession and use of marijuana was lawful, based on medical necessity.

A jury agreed, 24 years ago last week, and we won the case. Now, Mussika is one of many activists who attended the Seattle Hempfest this weekend. In fact, far away in the northwest corner of the United States, over 150,000 pot warriors gathered at Myrtle Beach State Park in Elliott Bay to demand the legalization of marijuana.

One of the people that should be there with her is Boynton Beach resident Robert Platshorn, 69, the leader of The Silver Tour, fighting to educate senior citizens about the medicinal uses of marijuana — how it is an alternative to traditional therapies, with less residual consequences. In 1987, he was in jail.

Unfortunately, Platshorn served the longest sentence in America for marijuana — over 30 years — but he is still a victim of America’s drug war. Still under federal parole supervision, it seems that the government is now questioning his right to attend festivals promoting the decriminalization of marijuana.  He is working for drug law reform. The federal government is insisting on drug war compliance.

Like Elvy Mussika, Platshorn will eventually prevail, because Truth cannot be suppressed or silenced by government agents acting foolishly. It blows up in their face and Justice eventually emerges. If you want to help fight for Platshorn’s cause, you can go on Kickstarter and help fund his remarkable video, “Should Grandma Smoke Pot?” You can write to the Parole Commission and tell them to let him travel. And you can read his book, The Black Tuna Diaries.

Unfortunately, the national media does not adequately cover the marijuana activist movement in America. If it did, you would know that over 18 states in America and the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana.

You would also know that in each and every place where a decriminalization bill gets on a ballot, it wins — almost everyone today 35 and older has smoked pot, and everyone 16 and older is willing to try it. And Platshorn is showing how marijuana is medicine for seniors.

In different decades, both Mussika and Platshorn have stood alone fighting battles against injustice and a legal system that has been far too harsh and cruel to marijuana smokers. Though 25 years apart in their dilemmas, they are inextricably woven together by a thread of injustice fostered and furthered even today by the Obama Administration. A quarter century passed between them, but the same bad laws yesterday curtail their rights today.

In California, medical dispensaries for marijuana users have proliferated by virtue of local ordinances and state laws allowing for the same. Sadly, tragically, and I dare say moronically, the Obama Administration has engaged in an all out war on those dispensaries and lawfully licensed businesses.

Disregarding the people’s will, the U.S. and its Department of Justice have raided the establishments, seized the inventory of medicines that were going to be provided to patients, and even arrested numerous owners who had in good faith opened businesses according to local laws.

As an activist who has spent 40 years fighting for the decriminalization of marijuana laws, I have found the acts of the Obama Administration unconscionable, unjust and unacceptable. Still, the bigger danger all of us face is if we look with an apathetic eye on the disproportionate number of people still getting arrested for smoking pot, and just not caring.

Nationally, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is carrying on a battle originally engaged 40 years ago when its founder, Keith Stroup, first called for an end to prohibition by 1980. On one hand, you have to believe Stroup is tired, but the truth is lately he has been inspired. Closer to victory than ever, we see NORML leading initiatives in Colorado, California and Washington. We see weed warriors waging a battle not to get high, but to be free. Join that battle and tear down the Berlin Wall of pot injustice.

There is that right to pursue happiness embedded in the Bill of Rights, if not in the thought processes of enough judges just yet. But the tide is turning. Before he passed away from pancreatic cancer, one New York jurist spoke out with an op ed in the New York Times.

When it comes to marijuana, you see, there is injustice on every corner. It spans decades and prison sentences so wrong and so unjust that complacency has no place anymore. It covers not just 750,000 American arrests a year, but 20 million in the past two decades. You can’t just light up and look away and still have a conscience. If you want to burn, then burn a message in your soul that you will be a voice for ending the injustice.

So that little sign on Wilton Drive in this small city of Wilton Manors is where it needs to be, and no city commissioner is going to tell me I can’t have it there as long as there are cops perpetuating the inequity of the drug war.

The only danger facing a pot smoker sitting on that bench is not from the weed but rather from a reckless, speeding drunk driver who hits him while he’s just sitting there enjoying a joint.

Norm Kent is a lawyer at the Criminal Defense Law Center in Fort Lauderdale.