By: Pamela Jayne
Soâ€¦A lawyer and a blonde walk into a diner. No, this isnâ€™t the opening line to the worst joke ever; itâ€™s the setting for my interview with Lance Rogers, a mild mannered San Diego native who abandoned a career as an actor to become an attorney, and who is currently fighting aggressively for the rights and freedoms of medical cannabis patients and providers in San Diego County. From one of the most highly publicized cases San Diego has ever seen, to the many cases that are quietly dismissed due to his knowledge and skill, Lance represents his clients with both relentless vigor and endearing compassion. Sorry to disappoint those who wish to stereotype attorneys as unethical, in it for the money, soulless beings, but Lance Rogers is the exact opposite of that. Yes, he fights tooth and nail, but he does so because he actually cares.
What made you decide to become an attorney?
Whenever I am asked that question, I tell this story. I was a professional actor for about eight years. I did a lot of theater and a lot of film and television, probably nothing anyone ever saw, but that was how I made my living. I was doing a play at the North Coast Repertory Theatre and that is where I met a retired judge from Alabama who said something Iâ€™ll never forget: â€˜Theatre and the law are not that different. In the theatre, you manipulate lies to expose the truth. In the law, you manipulate truths to expose a lie.â€™ That really stuck with me. For example, put two people on the witness stand and they will have two different versions of events. One of them is lying and you, as the lawyer, try to prove that through evidence.
So before that conversation, that chance meeting, you had never considered pursuing law?
Nope. I did take one of those psychology tests once and apparently my personality is geared towards things like being a teacher, which I have done, being an actor â€“ Iâ€™ve done that, and now I am a lawyer.
What and where did you teach?
I taught theater around San Diego County at elementary schools. I currently teach English to foreign lawyers who come to study at California Western School of Law.
What led you to medical cannabis law?
Unlike some lawyers, for me, it was accidental. I did the case People v. Jovan Jackson in 2009. He called the firm I was working for at the time, Turner Law Group, and my boss was out of town, so I went to George Bailey Detention Facility and met Jovan. I had done a lot of jail visits, but this one was different. He was educated, polite, clearly under a lot of stress, and telling me that he was innocent. Of course you hear a lot of people say that, but with this case, when I looked at the evidence, it was obvious that this guy really was innocent.
So you had no bias or opinion for or against medical cannabis before the Jackson case?
Thatâ€™s true. As a criminal defense attorney, it is just as important for me to not have any bias, as it is for the prosecutor, the judge, or the police. Whatever my personal views are, I set them aside when I represent my clients. It is just about the facts. So anyway, Jovan retained me, we went to trial, and we achieved an acquittal for him. After the acquittal, I started getting all of these calls about medical cannabis cases. I realized that there was really something important going on here.
Should patients be afraid of the law as it is now written?
No one should be afraid of the law, but people should know their rights and stand up for those rights. This is actually a very good question because I am hopeful that we are in a transitional period for medical cannabis, and that very soon this culture of fear will go away and people can once again be friends with and not be afraid of law enforcement.
And what about collective operators, caregivers, and growers? Should they fear the law?
Same thing. You bring up a good point. Something I have talked to my collective clients about recently is the subject of crime from real criminals. For example, I have a client who was robbed by three to four men with machetes. Those men were caught and are now serving time in jail because my client cooperated with the police and they were able to get the bad guys. I have heard of other cases where a collective does not want to cooperate with law enforcement after being the victim of a crime, because they are afraid of being investigated for medical marijuana. My problem with that is that I donâ€™t like exploitation of any kind, and that is a situation where the collective is being exploited by the criminals. The point is that collectives should say to police that we are the victims in this situation and we will cooperate with you, but we will also protect our patientsâ€™ confidential and private information. Yes, it is a difficult balance, but I do not think it is acceptable to not report a crime.
What do you think the future holds for the medical cannabis movement?
Please excuse the clichÃ©, but I believe that the future is bright.
Do you think we will see improvements sooner rather than later, or does slow and steady win the race?
Slow and steady wins the race. People are very frustrated because they want to see a lot of access very quickly. Reasonable access should be the standard, and I do not think that reasonable access means only one collective per city. Steve DeAngelo said recently, â€˜Medical cannabis is still a movement, it is not yet an industry,â€™ and I believe that to be true.
Are you satisfied with our local lawmakers and how they have handled the issue of safe access to medical cannabis?
No, I am not satisfied with how our elected officials have handled it. But I am also not completely satisfied with how the cannabis community lobbied them. There is a lot â€“ too much â€“ division in the community and that is such a disservice to the common goal that we all have. There is all of this talk about unity, but people need to take it more seriously and act on it because there are many people out there who oppose the very idea of medical cannabis. They may not be a large number, but this very vocal minority can influence elected officials. What we are asking for is progressive in nature and it is much easier for elected officials to stick with conservative viewpoints. I think that the city council was duped by this very vocal minority into believing that they represented more people than they actually do.
Duped or corrupted?
Corrupted is a strong word, so I am going to say duped. But the response to that was the referendum; and the reason that the referendum was successful in repealing the city councilâ€™s ordinance was because patients did not feel like they were being heard.
For the average person, navigating the law can be very daunting. So in brief laymanâ€™s terms, will you explain the current medical cannabis laws to NUG readers and break down the legal speak and tell people what the law really means?
Very simple. A medical cannabis patient has the right to use, possess, cultivate, and transport cannabis for medical purposes. A primary caregiver has those same rights to do it on behalf of a patient. A group of patients or primary caregivers may join together to cultivate and distribute cannabis for medical purposes. All medical cannabis must be grown by and distributed only to members. That is the core of how it should work.
Do you have any down time? What is it that you do to relax?
Well, I do not think about medical marijuana! I like to run; I do marathons and half marathons. I spend time with my wife and our two cats. I go to the beach. You have to have a balance between work and life, or you will get burnt out.
What are your plans for the future, career wise? Do you intend to stay in the field of law?
Well, I went from actor to lawyer, so who knows whatâ€™s next? There is a whole lot of work to be done on this issue, so I am going to be busy for quite awhile. After that, I donâ€™t know. Maybe Iâ€™ll take on another civil rights issue.
So you do consider this to be a civil rights issue?
Medical cannabis is a civil rights issue because people are being treated differently for no rational reason. Take two sick people for instance, one who uses Oxycontin with a valid prescription, and one who chooses, instead, to use cannabis with a valid doctorâ€™s recommendation. They are being treated completely different. That is discrimination, and that is why I consider this a civil rights movement.
Do you consider yourself to be an activist, or is your role simply to protect the rights and freedom of your clients?
I take that question extremely serious. As a lawyer, I am not an activist. When I am hired by a client, my job is to represent that clientâ€™s interest to the very best of my ability. I am there on behalf of the person sitting in the chair to the right of me in the courtroom. I am not there on behalf of any group or organization. Personally, I support the regulation of medical marijuana and the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes.
As Lance said, there is still much work to be done on behalf of the medical cannabis community, so if you are in need of legal representation, contact him at:
Law Offices of Lance Rogers
835 Fifth Avenue, Suite 307
San Diego, CA 92101