March 2012 Archives

Proposed California Law To Punish Marijuana Smokers Who Drive Even When Not Impaired

March 31, 2012,

Just when you thought things were getting better for marijuana and its users in California, the battle takes a turn for the dumb. According to the L.A. Weekly's Smoking Marijuana a Month Ago Could Get You a DUI Today Under Proposed Law, Los Angeles-area Assembywoman Norma J Torres is working on a bill that will make it a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) for a person to drive with ANY amount of marijuana in their blood system. The law does not seek to punish people with objective symptoms of being under the influence of marijuana (as is required now), it targets anyone who drives who has any metabolite of marijuana in their system. Marijuana can stay in a person's system for weeks, a month, and sometimes longer than a month. This law would make it a DUI to drive if you smoked marijuana a month ago.

Assembywoman Torres is silent on how that would affect the hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana users in California who lawfully take the drug at the recommendation of a doctor and are dispensed it and consume it lawfully. While Californians overwhelmingly support the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, 71% according to the Wall Street Journals's Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana Forms Campaign Committee, this law would effectively criminalize all medical marijuana users who drive. A patient who has been advised by their doctor to consume medical marijuana on a regular basis could never drive without being "under the influence," even if not impaired.

Some law enforcement support the law. Others, including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), have come out against it, urging Torres to withdraw the legislation immediately.

This law serves no legitimate purpose and will not deter DUIs. It seeks to punish something this is not inherently dangerous and that public overwhelmingly supports. Hopefully Torres' bill dies an early death.

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First Look Into L.A.'s Juvenile Court By Press Shows What They've Been Hiding All This Time

March 15, 2012,

The Pasadena Star News took advantage of the new open juvenile court rule in L.A. last week and described what they saw in Rare look at children's court finds tension runs high.

For private attorneys like me who practice in the juvenile courts and have been pushing for an open courts system through legislation or mandate, what the press found was no surprise. One court-appointed attorney was woefully unaware that his client was sitting right next to him. That same attorney was later reprimanded for not having a client's file in court. "You've got to pull it together," the judge told him before taking him in the back.

The same judge later ordered a social worker to attend a sanction meeting after the worker failed to file paperwork on time for a hearing. While the social worker claimed the delay was due to a "family emergency," the judge didn't seem to believe her. The department faces sanctions at a future hearing.

The court heard 24 cases that day. The attorneys in court seemed extremely nervous to have the press reporting. According the the article, the attorneys appointed to these juvenile cases only receive $680 per case. This is not adequate funding to handle the most important type of legal proceedings a family can ever face. But lawyers in this system don't complain about pay. According to LADL supervising attorney Marlene Furth, "The one thing they say, the one thing, is that they don't have time to talk with their clients."

I worked as a Deputy Public Defender for 5 years, 1 1/2 of those years representing parents in juvenile dependency court. If I did not have adequate time to talk to my client, I did not go forward in a court hearing. If I needed more time, I told the court I needed more time. I would not represent a client if I was not prepared, under any circumstance. No attorney should be bullied for any reason to commit malpractice because s/he is not adequately prepared and every client deserves to have an attorney who knows who they are, has spent adequate time with them, and who zealously advocates for them. That is what the profession demands. Anything less is unacceptable.

I am so glad that the courts are open in L.A. and I hope the press will continue to report on these issues. This reporter did not have to go from court room to court room looking for problems to report. All he had to do is go sit in any court room and WATCH. Some court- appointed attorneys do an outstanding job for their clients. But sadly, many court-appointed lawyers don't know who their clients are, are not prepared, or just don't have time to do the job competently.

These types of reports are long overdue and are likely just the tip of the iceberg. The public needs to know what is happening for there to be change. And if you were wondering why the parents' attorneys in L.A. were so adamantly against opening the juvenile courts, now you know for sure.

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Orange County Appeals Court Stops City Ban On Marijuana Shops

March 9, 2012,

According to Banning Pot Shops within City Limits - Not so Fast, Says Appellate Court!, the Fourth District, Division 3 Court of Appeal became the first appellate court in the state to strike down a city's total ban on "pot shops" or medical marijuana facilities. The question of whether cities like Lake Forest and Long Beach can entirely ban such facilities is likely headed to the State Supreme Court because other Courts of Appeal have ruled that such bans are okay.

There is much controversy regarding medical marijuana in California and beyond. The federal government refuses to recognize any legitimate medical purpose for marijuana and classifies it as a dangerous drug. At the same time, Californians overwhelmingly believe there are medical benefits for marijuana and voted for Prop 215 to permit the use of marijuana in our state for medicinal purposes. California is well ahead of the curve than the rest of the country in this regard. At the same time, cities don't know what to do when there is a conflict between federal law and state law over marijuana. Some city counsel members also believe that medical marijuana facilities lead to other problems, like increases in crime and violence in their cities. Some people believe that calling marijuana "medical" marijuana simply allows people to legitimize recreational drug use.

At the same time that the Court of Appeal in Orange County said a city cannot ban a pot shop, they added a new requirement that such shops can only sell marijuana that is grown on-location. This may effectively close up shops because shops cannot grow the quantities of marijuana inside a store front to meet the demand of the consumers. What a strange way for the COA to split the baby.

It is crazy that the executive branch would waste a dollar more fighting the failed war on drugs, particularly over marijuana. California could use the money from taxing marijuana for recreational use and giving patients access when they use it as medicine.The issue seems ripe for the State Supreme Court to decide but, I suspect, will also eventually end up back in front of the SCOTUS.