By. Ava Madison
As activists, we start to see which grassroots methods work and which do not. One of the most effective methods is going to the courthouse and supporting the persecuted members of our community. Court is very scary and technical, and if you are not a trained attorney, it can be quite a struggle. Defendants need all levels of support, and making yourself available in the courtroom gives the defendant a friend and shows the judge, media, jury, and public that we are aware of the injustices and are standing up together.
Defendants vs. Attorneys
Often defendants are fighting against their own lawyers, feeling as though they are not really being represented, are being forced into plea bargains, and that their lawyers lack the passion and fire necessary in a courtroom while simultaneously paying out retainer and representation fees. Other contributing factors are the lack of cooperation with the court system and that medical marijuana rights have not been recognized for about fourteen years.Â In 1996, the California voters approved the California Compassionate Use Act, also known as Proposition 215, which states, â€œThe law removes criminal penalties for personal use possession and cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes by patients (and their designated â€œprimary caregiverâ€) who have a physician recommendation or approval,â€ yet often the medical marijuana defense is not granted to the defendant because of the prosecutorsâ€™ manipulation of the law..
Trial by Jury
Many people do not have the ability to go to trial, and those who do often go broke going to trial, and they will still be sentenced, with their rights taken away and freedoms lost.Â This battle for your life is both an emotional and a political rollercoaster. If you remember right, Jovan Jackson was thrown in jail twice while in pre-trial hearings. As a viewer at many of these hearings, it was an intense learning experience in what the prosecutors will try to say about you and your collective/co-operative; they will tear you apart for making a profit, and seem to forget the basics of business and that the money the company brings in is not illegal. Prosecutorsâ€™ like labeling defendants extreme criminals and profiteers. Supporters in the courtroom make it a lot more difficult for attorneys to lie and judges to show bias.
Media in the Courtroom
And thus, the importance of court support is it shows the court that there is a presence of people who have beliefs and values about the stakes at hand. As mainstream media catches on and becomes more accepting of our message, the truth about cannabis and court injustices are just a reporter away. With cameras rolling inside courtrooms, prosecutors, defendants, and judges all know they are subject to scrutiny from the public and the threat of their outcry. Media coverage gives us the ability to spread public knowledge about the effects of prohibition and disregard for state law regarding the patients and cannabis community. Crowds of people leave an impression, an image of an aware group of people fighting for justice and standing by the side of the persecuted until the prosecutions stop.Â The pressure from public opinion and the push to finally legalize cannabis all-together make an impact on the ability of the prosecution to focus on these cases. Many of these contributing factors are to our benefit. The times are changing, and in order to progress this movement, we must continue to come together in our community and stand up for our beliefs by supporting members going to battle and making changes through the judicial system and court policies.
Of the many circumstances surrounding being charged with a crime, going to trial is the most stressful.Â Financially, it is a minimum of $5,000-20,000 for attorney fees, while going to an appellate court could cost you $100,000.Â You do have the right to obtain a public defender, but they are often unequipped with the knowledge of medical marijuana laws, which obviously has an effect on the proceedings; as was the case with Cletus Greathouse, who was thrown in jail for two months after an unfortunate turn of events which eventually led to him being forced into a plea bargain. There are a few well known cases coming up. Donna Lambert and Eugene Davidovich have been vocal about their storiesâ€™, meriting local and regional coverage and public sympathy. The more support, the better impression on the media and the effect of change in public opinion.
Trial is also an excellent place to learn what people are being prosecuted for, reasonable or unreasonable reasons, and how you can avoid making the same mistakes.Â As a viewer of these events, one of the major benefits of going to a court support is the ability to see the Narcotics Task Force Officers and hear what qualifies clubs for court problems; avoiding those mistakes is a wise idea. At one case, known-undercover officer Scott Henderson AKA Jamie Conlan was being cross-examined, and counsel was able to establish that the Narcotics Task Force was trained by the California Narcotics Officers Association which only gave a few hours of informational training on medical marijuana.Â The first few sentences in the training manual state, â€œâ€¦marijuana is illegalâ€¦ and has no medical benefit;â€ which makes you wonder if they even know the law at all.Â Counsel was then able to establish that these officers went to training, but do not recognize the basics of the medical marijuana laws (they couldnâ€™t remember them, didnâ€™t know parts, etc.), yet arrest people for supposedly breaking those laws. At another court date, these undercover officers referred to the collective verification or sign-in process as â€œjust a piece of paper [they] signed to get the stuff,â€ not an actual applicable agreement. They also said they didnâ€™t read it so it does not establish joining a collective/co-op, and then they were sold marijuana.Â It would be sensible for clubs to send a representative to learn about what has been said, what the defendant is going through, and to not make the same mistakes.
Remember that numbers count, numbers are what make a community, and with San Diego on the frontlines, we need to come together as a community and continue to fight this battle more than ever. There will be a few members who need the support; you can learn about these defendants on the news, at San Diego ASA and NORML meetings, and at NugMag.com. These trials coming up would benefit from a full courtroom of polite, respectable community members who are there to learn and support our San Diego Cannabis Freedom Fighters.