By: Pamela Jayne
If you should ever find yourself in the daunting surroundings of a courtroom with your freedom in the hands of 12 of your peers, Mark Bluemel is the lawyer you want to be sitting next to as the jury files into the courtroom to deliver their verdict. With 15 years as a successful trial lawyer under his belt, and the steadfast belief that all medical cannabis defendants are not only innocent, but are actually political prisoners, his passion for protecting the rights of his clients is unparalleled in the legal community.
Unlike the stereotype we tend to associate with attorneys, Mark did not pursue his career path for the sake of nurturing his own ego. A self-described nerd, he has an Associate Degree in marine technology, a BS in Biology, a BA in Literature, and a JD (the professional graduate degree required to practice law in the United States).
â€œTrial work, for me, is very rewarding. I compare it to surfing big waves without the fear of drowning. It is the ultimate adrenaline rush.â€ The more I thought about this analogy, the more I realized how spot-on it is. Medical cannabis patients and their providers are basically afloat in the open ocean and the only hope in sight is an experienced and skilled attorney, like Mark. Facing unknown depths, both physical and emotional exhaustion, and being circled by sharks, trustworthy legal representation is the only thing that keeps them from certain death. To those who have never been in this situation, this scenario may seem like a bit of a hyperbole, but for those who have had the misfortune of being in the defendantâ€™s seat, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Mark has provided counsel to many notable members of the medical cannabis community, such as the late Steve McWilliams, who was a causality of the horrible failure known as the War on Drugs; burn victim, hero, and survivor of the Cedar Fire, Rudy Reyes; the San Diego chapter of NORML, as well as numerous other patients, caregivers, and collective operators. While most of his clients are not household names, they are all equally important to Mark. Although his practice is not limited to cannabis law, he does say that those cases are some of the most personally rewarding because, â€œI truly feel that they are innocent, and I think that they are political prisoners â€“ their government is persecuting them (at least in California) for obeying the law of the land. That is the very definition of a political prisoner.â€ He went on to explain that even though medical cannabis is legal in the state of California, it does not mean there is no risk involved. â€œUnfortunately, everyone involved in medical marijuana has the federal government to fear. I would never tell a client otherwise.â€
Mark is more than just a lawyer; he was the only practicing attorney to hold a seat on San Diegoâ€™s Medical Marijuana Task Force, which was commissioned from early 2010 until October of 2010. About that experience, he says, â€œI was disappointed that our recommendations were not followed; however, it was very rewarding to see the community come together to pass the referendum.â€
The law is not the only thing Mark is passionate about. 12 years ago, he started a foundation called C.Y.C.L.E (Celebrating Youth Choosing Learning Excellence), which awards free bicycles, helmets, and bicycle locks to students in Lincoln Park who excel in math and/or science. He did this because, in his words, â€œAn ignorance of science is an invitation for injustice.â€ I was shocked as Mark told me of several occasions, while in a court of law, when he relied on his education in science to prove false the testimony of so-called scientific experts while on the stand. Apparently, the term â€œexpertâ€ is used very loosely in our justice system.
In Markâ€™s opinion, the most important element of the criminal justice system is the jurors. In his experience, those called to jury duty are largely in favor of patientsâ€™ rights to safe access to medical cannabis. Mark cited a study done by MPP (Marijuana Policy Project), which found that 72% of San Diego County citizens are in favor of medical cannabis. On one level, this is very good news for our cause; but while preparing for trial and choosing the jury, these people are often challenged by the prosecution and sent home, unable to serve on a medical cannabis case. (To be clear, it is illegal to lie under oath, and Mark wants all NUG readers to know that he strongly advises all prospective jurors to be honest about everything when in court.)
On a lighter note, Mark is also a published author of a series of books called, â€œThe Grommets,â€ geared towards children 8-12 years old. His goal in writing the books was to dispel the stereotype of the â€˜Spicoliâ€™ type, lazy surf-dude, and to show that people of all ages who surf are normal, intelligent, and contributing members of society. In a lighthearted, candid moment, Mark said, â€œMost of the guys I see while Iâ€™m out surfing are chubby; they donâ€™t have blonde hairâ€¦Some donâ€™t have any hair, and we all leave the water when itâ€™s time to go to the office.â€ While on the subject of stereotypes, Mark expressed his disappointment with those who, while well-intentioned, sometimes represent the medical cannabis community in a not so favorable manner. His point is that there is a time and a place for everything, and we should recognize that the way we dress and behave while attending city council hearings reflects the entire community. In a nutshell, leave the patchouli at home, and when speaking to the media, refrain from using phrases such as, â€œYou know, man.â€ and â€œThis is bullshit.â€ He has a valid point, whether you want to accept it or not. Those who are the face of the movement must realize that they are responsible for representing those who are unable to publicly speak for themselves, and that is a huge responsibility. â€œItâ€™s like this,â€ Mark says. â€œYou wouldnâ€™t apply Preparation H in public, so why would you medicate with cannabis in public?â€ Pain in the ass aside, he is absolutely right. With rights, come responsibilities. For every tie-dyed wearing, sign holding activist, there are at least a hundred patients who are unable to attend rallies and protests because they are at work, in school, or just too ill to protest. Mark realizes, of course, those who take the time to attend rallies, hearings, and protests are a vital part of this movement, and he has the utmost respect for their efforts.
Back to the heart of the matter, Mark is particularly compassionate towards his clients who are medical cannabis patients because he believes that they have been set up by the system to fail, no matter how hard they try to operate within the law. â€œIt is a terrifying experience for a patient who has never been exposed to the criminal justice system,â€ he says. â€œThese are good people who have never had any police contact, and then one day they open their door to find a 20-person SWAT team screaming in their faces with guns pointed directly at them. Their home, their personal space is violated, and their property is destroyed.â€ As we talked more about why Mark chooses to represent medical cannabis patients, he said, â€œFirst of all, patients are weaker simply by virtue of the fact that they are patients with medical issues. I have a personal problem with bullies, and the system acts as a big bully towards patients. Besides, I know for a fact that the vast majority of medical cannabis patients are law-abiding, good people.â€
Mark says that he learned how to effectively represent his clients during his time working with famed attorney and founder of The Trial Lawyers College, Gerry Spence, who taught Mark that he must put himself in his clientâ€™s shoes in order to feel empathy for them. It was Gerry Spence who also taught him to, â€œBe real, be honest, be truthful, and be yourself.â€ As to why he believes that medical cannabis use is so openly demonized by the government, Mark refers to another one of his mentors, Tony Serra, who said, â€œPeople who use marijuana tend to be open-minded, artistic and creative. They are more likely to question authority, and the government does not want that.â€
To contact Mark Bluemel for legal representation:
4452 Park Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92116