Aspen Times Weekly: Hit & Run with John Colson
December 5, 2013
The headline was so filled with rich irony, it was all I could do to keep from giggling hysterically.
"Lawyers who advise marijuana vendors warned over ethics," blared the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel one day last week.
I had to look again, then go online to look some more.
Lawyers warning other lawyers about ethics? Is there a punchline to that, is this a skit on Saturday Night Live, or what?
I guess not, because the article, in deadpan seriousness, informed readers that some committee of the Colorado Bar Association had issued a "nonbinding opinion" that attorneys advising marijuana vendors stood a chance of being "sanctioned" by the state's attorney regulation office.
And, all kidding aside, the issue seems to be a source of concern for attorneys in Colorado as well as Washington, after voters in the two states legalized the cultivation, sale and use of pot by anyone over 21 years of age.
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A perusal of websites showed that the issue has been bouncing around in the courts and in the blogosphere for a month or more, and that many of the states that have legalized medical marijuana are wrestling with it, too.
And, it turns out, what attorneys are truly hoping for is a ruling by the respective state Supreme Courts that it's OK for lawyers to advise clients in the pot business.
In Washington, according to a Nov. 5 report by The Associated Press, the state bar "declined to endorse" a proposal from the King County Bar Association (home to the city of Seattle) for just that type of ruling from the state high court.
That prompted King County Bar President Anne M. Daley to advise, in return, that preventing attorneys from advising clients on the thicket of complex legal issues involved would in effect be telling state-sanctioned businesses that they are on their own.
"The voters of Washington did not endorse this approach," Daley dryly concluded.
Among other things, I find it interesting that this issue apparently did not come up when states began legalizing medical marijuana more than a decade ago.
Perhaps the legal beagles were thinking that the numbers of medical marijuana patients never got all that huge, whereas the potential numbers of recreational marijuana users might conceivably involve half the population of any given state, which could translate into a lot of money in billings for a lot of law firms.
According to a Gallup poll in October, more than 58 percent of Americans now support legalization for adults, and roughly 42 percent of Americans aged 12 years or older have smoked the stuff, according to a federal report.
Given that 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, it is not outlandish to predict that other jurisdictions will follow the lead of Colorado and Washington in the near future.
So, you might ask, what is to be gained by making criminals not only out of law-abiding pot sellers, growers and cookie-makers, but of the lawyers who advise the businesses that provide a product that so many people seem to view as beneficial, at the least, and life-enhancing for countless medical marijuana patients?
This is one of those cases when the general public seems to be way ahead of the government, even as state and federal drug agencies cynically and viciously ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for selling or using a substance that now is legal in nearly half the states of the Union.
Our nationally idiotic anti-pot policies were founded on the racist beliefs and fierce law-enforcement ambitions of one man back in the 1930s, Harry J. Anslinger, the nation's first drug czar. Building on racist fears of the majority white population, using outright lies and unsupported stereotypes, he made marijuana a nasty word in the U.S. lexicon, just to ensure himself a job.
The unfortunate thing is, a lot of the people fooled by his bigoted rantings remain in positions of power and can continue to thwart a commonsense approach to all this.
We can only hope they will listen to reason.