Medical Marijuana Advocacy Group Training Public Defenders

Los Angeles – Successfully defending medical marijuana patients in court will be the focus of a series of legal trainings kicking off in Los Angeles tomorrow. Public defenders and court-appointed attorneys will be on hand at the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors building tomorrow evening at 5:30pm for the first of 24 sessions presented by the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA).

“No California medical marijuana patient or caregiver should ever have to go to jail or accept a plea bargain again,” said Steph Sherer, ASA executive director. “Once defense attorneys understand the changes in the law and the defenses available to them, they’ll be able to fight every prosecution to acquittal.”

Proposition 215, known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, established the legal right of patients to use, possess and grow marijuana with a doctor’s authorization in California. In January 2004, SB 420, a bill passed by the California legislature and signed by the governor, went into effect, giving patients and cooperative dispensaries additional rights and directing counties to afford better protection to patients and caregivers. The new law has led to many questions, as local government and law enforcement officials work to comply with the state requirements.

In December 2003, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Raich vs. Ashcroft (Case No. 03-15481) that established that the federal government has violated the Constitution in prosecuting and arresting patients and their caregivers. The decision says that so long as patients are in compliance with their state laws, do not cross state lines and do not buy or sell the marijuana, they are not affecting interstate commerce. Congress’s ability to regulate interstate commerce is the basis for federal drug laws.

The ruling in Raich vs. Ashcroft has already had far-reaching effects on other cases. Last week a federal judge took the first steps toward issuing an injunction against future arrest and prosecution of the members of the  Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) in Santa Cruz. The case of a San Bernardino couple, scheduled for trial in LA in August, will be the first time federal defendants are allowed to present medical evidence. On April 20th, the government filed its petition for Supreme Court review of the Raich decision, which may be heard as early as November.

The ASA legal training in LA will be followed by 23 more across the state of California. The training sessions will count for continuing legal education credit (MCLE) for the participating attorneys and cost $20. The classes were put together by ASA staff attorney Joseph Elford, a Stanford and Yale-trained constitutional law expert and criminal defense attorney, who is also conducting the sessions.

For interviews with ASA attorney Joe Elford, executive director Steph Sherer, landmark medical marijuana patient Angel Raich, or members of WAMM, contact William Dolphin at (510) 919-1498 or [email protected]. A national coalition of 10,000 patients, doctors and advocates, Americans for Safe Access is the largest organization working solely on medical marijuana. 

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