Marijuana Law Just Got High in Complications
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Colorado has decriminalized marijuana and left a major asterisk in its wake. Smoking up remains highly regulated in the Centennial State and selling the drug requires several layers of government scrutiny , but we have crossed the Rubicon. Pot, for all intents and purposes, is now legal.
This change means many things to many people (and an explosion in profits to the Frito-Lay corporation), but as a lawyer it means just one thing to me: marijuana law just got much more complicated. In fact, for all intents and purposes, marijuana law now exists.
To explore the issue a little bit further, I spoke with Jeff Gard a partner at the Gard and Bond law firm in Boulder . A 20-year veteran of Colorado's courts, Gard specializes in legal issues surrounding marijuana. We talked about his thoughts on the future of marijuana in the law, and what it will mean for the profession.
Get a Lawyer, Not a Crusader
One of the biggest problems with pot law, Gard said, is that it tends to draw crusaders from the bar.
"It attracts people who are interested in the movement," Gard said, "but the hallmark of legal representation is to set aside your own desires and truly represent your client's interest in the context of the law that exists."
Gard says that he often sees lawyers drawn to marijuana law because of their personal interest in the issue. The problem is that these crusader lawyers let that interest color how they counsel their clients, often giving advice based on how they wish the law worked instead of from a strictly objective point of view.
This is often particularly true when it comes to criminal law.
"Some lawyers would advise clients that dabbling in this issue was a gray area and I took issue with that," he said. "There is no gray area. If it's not white, it's black; there's no gray area in the criminal law."
This has become even more important in the wake of legalization. Now lawyers who want to deal with marijuana have to know a raft of regulations surrounding ownership, possession and use before they can competently advise a client. Gard calls it a back-to-basics approach, having to focus on what the law says and what that means for his client. Crusader lawyers can get sloppy, telling clients what they think ought to be legal and sending people out ill-informed on a confusing subject.
At least before legalization clients could consider themselves forewarned, they knew marijuana was illegal regardless of what their lawyer said. Today a lawyer who confuses his agenda for objective legal advice can do much more harm.
Post Conviction Problems
One of the many, major questions in the wake of legalization is what happens to people convicted of drug crimes. Many people are currently serving time for something that today would be perfectly legal. What will Colorado do for them?