Today I am going to come out of the closet as a Bi-Coastal pot consumer.
I lead two lives; one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.
In Fort Lauderdale, I own a townhouse where I have resided for over a quarter of a century. In this community, I am a lawyer and a spokesman for NORML, very active in drug law reform. But I cannot practice what I preach. That would be illegal.
In California, however, I found a small town near Berkley, east of San Francisco Bay, where I may retire. It is Walnut Creek, a hamlet, I understand, that has more open public spaces than any other village in America. There, I may eventually choose to grow my own pot. I am allowed to do so.
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where I practice law, and get people out of trouble for growing pot, I have to defend people who do what I am entitled to do in California legally. You see, the rules are different here. Life can thus be a bit conflicted.
In early 2006, my Florida roommate, after learning he was HIV positive, decided to move back to his hometown of San Francisco. As a pot consumer, he realized he could now get a medicinal recommendation for marijuana and grow pot legally under California law. The Florida laws are not so kind or generous. Cultivation of any amount is a second degree felony.
We went to San Francisco together, to a community I have visited and loved since the early 1970’s, from my first spectacular drive up the Pacific Coast highway. We found and rented a small apartment in the Haight.
It has been thirteen years since California voters enacted Proposition 215, which allowed citizens to utilize marijuana for medical purposes if a person had a legitimate need. As a recovering cancer patient, I more than qualified for a medical marijuana recommendation.
I sought out a legitimate physician, not one running a medical marijuana mill. I came with a full set of medical records tracking my unenviable medical past, including recent spinal surgery. The doctor thoughtfully reviewed with me the medical risks associated with the use of cannabis. Not that I did not have a little experience. I mean, I am 60 years old this year. My friends’ kids go to Bonnaroo. I lived through Woodstock.
After the screening, my physician then appropriately certified me as an individual who could benefit from the medical use of cannabis. Just like that, I became patient number 380206011. I then proceeded to a medical dispensary, proudly armed with a State of California Medical Marijuana Identification Card.
As a California patient, I am empowered to acquire cannabis lawfully at medical dispensaries. Under the California Health and Safety Code, I am also entitled to grow up to six plants of my own in my little apartment on the bay. I do not have to hide them from the authorities.
I joined the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, and was issued a Growers Certificate. It affirms that any herbs I cultivate at home would be grown for my personal medical use. I was now at liberty to grow my own medicine. It is still called pot in Florida. We call it medicine in California.
Today, therefore, the same medicine I can consume lawfully in California I have to prevent people from going to jail for in Florida. It makes no sense. Fourteen states and scores of communities across our country have either decriminalized or ‘medicalized’ marijuana. It is not good enough. Americans still face one very large federal stumbling block.
A state may pass its own laws, but so too may the federal government pass laws which preempt those state laws. In the case of marijuana, that is what Washington has done. Our federal government claims marijuana is not medicine. As such, it criminalizes all marijuana possession, use, or cultivation, regardless of what the states do.
At first, patients were lucky. In 2003, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal government had no right to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana patients- as long as what they possessed was for personal use. The United States Supreme Court reversed that ruling in 2005. Thus, as we sit here today, in 2009, federal law enforcement officials can prosecute medical marijuana patients, even if state authorities will not; even if they reside in a state where medical marijuana use is protected by state law.
Under our Constitution, the police power of the state is to be exercised by the state. California authorities are not disobeying federal laws by not enforcing them. They are not legally obligated to do so. Nor is Florida obligated to follow California laws. Just because you have a medical right to possess cannabis in California does not give you a legal right to grow or possess it in Florida. Though some clients of mine have tried, you can’t get stopped for smoking in Miami Beach and pull out a medical marijuana card from Santa Monica. It won’t fly. Tell it to your bondsman.
Welcome then to my conflicted life. I am permitted to grow my own medicine lawfully in my California apartment. If I were to do that in Florida, police could raid my house and the Florida Bar could seize my card. Instead of representing a grower, I would need a lawyer to represent me. Florida would not care that I am patient number 380206011 in California. What is wrong with that picture?
The cannabis I purchase in a dispensary in Berkeley I can carry in my car and consume in my living room. If I am flying back to Florida though, I cannot carry it with me. That would be a federal crime. But if I am relaxing at an airport bar in either San Francisco or Fort Lauderdale, I can order and consume Crown Royal and Coke. What I can’t get on both coasts is justice. That is far more elusive, and does not come in a bottle.
One national reform group has spent 40 years trying to stem the tide of repression and advance the rights of marijuana consumers. They say it is normal to smoke pot. Their name is NORML, the National Organization to Reform the Marijuana Laws. If there was ever a time to be part of their effort, it is now, as the new administration in Washington has said they are going to put an end to the drug war madness. They have said they will end the raids on medical dispensaries.
We need to see that deed and action follows words and promises.
We need to send a message to our legislators that the silent majority of Americans support vast and overriding changes to repressive drug laws which have incarcerated too many for too long. Join NORML in that cause
We need to show that moral authority is on our side.
Spread the word and it will spread the seed.
NORM KENT, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, publishes The Broward Law Blog, www.browardlawblog.com