When Bill Sherman (this is not his real name—due to the sensitivity of his case, he asked us to use an alias) came home to a dozen narcotics agents in his apartment one night, he knew he would need a pot lawyer. The cops had forced entry without a warrant, having figured out that Sherman was receiving out-of-state cannabis-oil shipments, which he used to treat his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Living in Mississippi, where legal weed is only the stuff of fairy tales in far-off lands on the West Coast, Sherman had been risking his freedom to self-medicate with cannabis.
“They said they knew I had the oil and they wanted it, so I said, ‘Sure, where’s your warrant?’” Sherman explains. “They said to me, ‘We don’t have a warrant, and if you don’t sign this piece of paper, we’ll take your son away.’” Sherman’s young son is on the autism spectrum and has an immune deficiency; no one else knows how to properly care for him.
“They said, ‘We’re taking your son, putting you in jail, and by the time you get out of jail, you’ll have to fight the courts to get custody of your son back,’” Sherman says. “So I had no choice but to sign the piece of paper saying they could search my property.” Sherman gave the cops all his cannabis oil, thankful to keep his son. “But without my knowledge, they held me in contempt of court for court dates I didn’t know I had,” he says. “I eventually was arrested by a cop who was looking for me.” He was facing four to 16 years behind bars.
Stories like this are far more commonplace than you might think. Sherman needed a lawyer with experience in cannabis law, but he had no idea where to look. “I didn’t know who to get; no lawyer specializes in that kind of thing where I was from in Mississippi,” he says. The lawyer Sherman eventually found was a friend of his mother.
Finding the Right Lawyer
Ideally, if you’re busted for weed, you’d hire a marijuana lawyer—someone who specializes or has extensive experience in this area of the law. You’d want to be sure that she not only is up to date with the most recent changes in marijuana policy on local, state and federal levels, but is also familiar with how various judges and courts tend to treat marijuana cases.
First and foremost, regardless of your lawyer’s niche, you need to have confidence in him. “The most important thing is that you believe you can trust your lawyer and speak openly to them even about difficult things that are really personal,” explains New York attorney Joseph Bondy, who has practiced federal criminal defense, with a specialty in marijuana law, for more than 23 years. “Get someone who listens, someone who cares about you,” he says. If a lawyer and client establish that relationship and bond at the forefront, the rest becomes easier, Bondy says.
Starting with a strong foundation between lawyer and client, the lawyer can dig into the case with care, researching relevant statutes to use in court.
But that personal element is vital. “At the end of it all, your lawyer bridges you to the court or jury, humanizes you in a way that persuades people to give you the benefit of the doubt or not to hurt you or send you to prison,” Bondy says. “For me, it was always my ability to have that emotionally tight relationship with somebody so I could be their bridge that allowed me to succeed.”
Research Your Lawyer
In order to fully trust your lawyer, you’ll want to know as much about him as possible. It should go without saying: Google terms like “marijuana lawyer,” “marijuana defense lawyer,” “marijuana criminal defense lawyer,” “weed lawyer [insert your city],” etc. Most likely, among the hits will be a link to NORML’s website. NORML—the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws—has a list of lawyers who handle pot cases and are members of the nonprofit’s Legal Committee. This is a sure way to vet whether your attorney has experience in cannabis law. Visit lawyers.norml.org and click on your state to find a lawyer in your area. If NORML’s list doesn’t include anyone in your city, call another lawyer in the state for a referral.
Look for all the negative reviews you can find in order to vet your lawyer, says Bondy, while keeping in mind this is all just fodder for a first meeting. “I tell all my clients that I don’t want you to hire me unless I’m your first choice,” he says. “If you find some other lawyer who’s better for you, I want you to hire them.”
Look into your lawyer’s professional affiliations. Is he a member of the NORML Legal Committee? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)? The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)? Has he received any bar association awards? Has he branded his law firm in association with cannabis (e.g., 1-800-420-LAWS)? And how long has he been practicing law?
If you’re in the cannabis industry, whether in a legal or unregulated market, ask your colleagues which lawyers they’ve used in times of trouble. And if you get busted out of state, be sure to find a lawyer close to the jurisdiction where you’ve been arrested.
Be sure to confirm with the local bar authority or local state licensing authority that the lawyer is indeed licensed and current, Bondy cautions. Confirm that the lawyer has no instances of malpractice, and if his record is indeed tainted, ask him what happened. Give him a chance to explain the instance, as he may have had a disagreement with a disgruntled client. Not every case turns out the way a client may want, but that doesn’t mean the lawyer is bad—even if the client, whose expectations may have been impractical, leaves a terrible Yelp review.
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Madison Margolin on High Times
Published: May 28, 2018
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News