Pubdate: Fri, 02 Jun 2006
Source: Aspen Daily News (CO)
Copyright: 2006 Aspen Daily News
Author: Troy Hooper, Aspen Daily News
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


America's war on terror is leaving some criminal defense attorneys
dazed and confused.

In an age when 11 states allow marijuana to be used for medicinal
purposes -- a 12th state, New Jersey, is currently considering it --
and communities across the nation are softening penalties for
possessing small amounts of the pungent green plant, conservative
legislators are using the Patriot Act to crack down on drugs.

At a National Organization of the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
legal seminar at The Gant in Aspen this week, Denver attorney Jeralyn
Merritt warned defense lawyers from across the country that the
Patriot Act is infringing on civil liberties and how its overly broad
definitions could impact their clients.

"Once you give the government power, it's very hard to get it back,"
she said. In North Carolina, a district attorney has used the state's
"weapons of mass destruction" statute to charge a suspected crystal
methamphetamine lab owner. The creative application of the statute
allowed the prosecutor to threaten the alleged meth producer with a
prison sentence of 12 years to life, as opposed to the substantially
smaller sentences already on the books for drug dealing.

In neighboring Georgia, dozens of Indian convenience-store clerks and
managers have been prosecuted for selling cold medicine and other
legal products that are commonly used to make meth, even though many
of the defendants spoke limited English and apparently did not
understand the medicine can produce drugs.

Up in Washington, federal officials enacted a Patriot Act provision to
investigate a marijuana-smuggling operation that allegedly used a
secret tunnel to transport pot into the United States from
marijuana-friendly British Columbia. Authorities obtained a "sneak and
peak" warrant that allows them to enter and bug locations without
informing suspects a search warrant has been issued. Civil
libertarians decry "sneak and peak" warrants, which Merritt said have
increased by about 75 percent in this new century, as an affront to
the Fourth Amendment.

"We have to protect people from a government that in its effort to do
right, quite often does wrong," said Cal Williams, a criminal defense
lawyer who traveled to Aspen from Colby, Kansas, to attend the NORML

U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wisconsin), who Merritt calls "the
most dangerous man in Congress," has introduced a bill called "Defending
America's Most Vulnerable: Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act" that,
if passed, could put offenders behind bars for five years if they pass a
marijuana joint to a person who has previously been in treatment, lock up
parents for at least three years if they witness or learn about
drug-trafficking activities targeting children, and put persons away for
two years if they don't report drug sales at universities and colleges,
according to Merritt.

"Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! That's terrible," a lawyer in attendance
remarked. R. Keith Stroup, a Washington, D.C., attorney who founded
NORML in 1970, said his organization first began coming to Aspen after
he smelled a curious smell emanating from the bleachers at the
Democratic National Assembly in Miami in 1971. The aroma came from the
late scribe Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, who was puffing a marijuana joint
during a break of his coverage of the political convention. Stroup
joined Thompson and the two became friends. Soon, Thompson became a
senior advisor to NORML, helping lift the group's profile. "Doc was an
enormous draw," said Stroup.

Aspen attorney Gerry Goldstein, who lectured on important new cases
affecting marijuana users at the opening of NORML's seminar in Aspen
this week, was among the first lawyers to get involved with the
movement in 1971 and also helped bring the legal seminars to the area.
NORML visits here every four or five years.

There are about 40 attendees to the seminar this year, Stroup said,
adding that attendance is down because of the increased competition
for continued-legal-education credits that lawyers receive for
attending conferences like NORML's.

NORML holds seminars in Key West, Fla., every December, where about
155 to 160 attorneys show up every year. "If we were going to start
doing this in Aspen every year, we'd bring our core group and the
numbers would be bigger," he said.

Stroup said he is contemplating a larger presence in Aspen but no
decisions have been made. This week's seminar started Thursday and
ends today, with a "High Tea at Hunter Thompson's Owl Farm in Woody
Creek." Other lectures included this week have focused on defending
driving-under-the-influence-of-drugs cases, ethics and
professionalism, child welfare and custody issues when parents smoke
marijuana and cutting edge issues for medical marijuana patients.

NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre added that the organization
decided to hold the seminar in Aspen in part to help focus attention
on the effort currently under way to adopt a statewide voter
initiative to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana by
adults. The initiative, called Safer Alternatives for Enjoying
Recreation, is expected to make the November ballot. It is modeled
after a successful measure passed in the city of Denver last year. 
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