Monday, February 23, 2009

No Oscar for Citizens Protesting Unjust Federal Marijuana Laws

No Oscar for Medical Marijuana Providers
by Norm Kent
There will be no Oscar awards for this real life ceremony coming to Los Angeles today.

Protesters will righteously and defiantly gather on the corner of Main Street and Temple St outside the federal courthouse at 12:00 PM on Monday, February 23.
They will be medical marijuana patients and advocates unified to protest strenuously the upcoming sentencing of Charles C. Lynch, who was convicted for operating a medical marijuana dispensing collective in Morro Bay in August of last year.

The organizers have no red carpet. They just want to draw public attention to Lynch's case hoping against hope that Judge Wu will use his discretion to impose a lenient sentence on the 46-year old Lynch, who could face decades in federal prison. That would be Change we can believe in.

"People need to know that Charles Lynch is going to federal prison even though he was obeying state and local law," event organizer Cheryl Aichele told the online paper,, "It is not fair that he should be caught in the crossfire between state and federal law." But he is and if we do not do something about it, he will be gunned down.

California is one of thirteen states in which medical marijuana is legal, but federal law prohibits its use under any circumstances. That means that though Mr. Lynch obeyed local and state laws, he becomes a national and federal prisoner. That means he is a victim of American injustice at its worst.

Mr. Obama became President on January 20. Of course, he wanted time to catch up and assume the role. But you do become president on Day 1, and you have to assume the role from the moment you take the oath, flubbed or not. There is no time for Mr. Lynch. His sentencing is in less than a month.
Yes, I read that on February 4, a White House Spokesman named Nick Shapiro said that President Obama did not want to waste federal law enforcement resources circumventing state medical marijuana laws. Then have the guts to do something about it now. Then please let's find a reporter in the White House pool to ask these questions before Mr. Lynch is sentenced.
Mr. Shapiro opined that he expected the President's new appointees to consider this when setting policy for their agencies. How about having one of them show up at the sentencing for Mr. Lynch? How about directing the US Attorney to stand down? I am available if they want to send me.

Just as Ed Rosenthal in San Francisco was not permitted to present evidence his growhouse was for medical consumers, the prohibitive Federal Rules of Evidence denied Mr. Lynch from presenting any testimony whatsoever about medical marijuana, Mr. Lynch's city business license, or California state law. A jury thus only heard that some man was selling marijuana to line his pockets. Thus, Mr. Lynch was convicted on all counts.

Drew Carey's account of Mr. Lynch's struggle with the federal government on helped the case to receive national media attention. Ed Rosenthal was sentenced to a day in jail. Will our government ask that Mr. Lynch serve any more?

Today, a quiet Monday in L.A., thousands of people will be talking about the Oscars, and as the Hollywood types watch the news this evening, one will see this rag tag band of protestors rallying around the federal courthouse. Somewhere someone will say 'This will make a good film.'
While gay people were being beaten mindlessly in alleys for decades, someone may have said the same for Harvey Milk. Maybe in 20 years some actor will play the role of a Tommy Chong, busted senselessly, incarcerated unjustly, and released to make a difference.
But for Mr. Lynch and his family, there is no time today for a movie tomorrow. This is real life. Unless our President and his administration does something, he is going to jail for years.

Protesters will gather on the corner of Main Street and Temple St outside the federal courthouse at 12:00 PM on Monday, February 23. The street address for the federal courthouse is 312 North Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. If you are in LA, grab a joint, cop a sign, and be there. It will not get you into the Academies, but it will make you a star.

Here are some related links, courtesy of Americans for Safe Access:
White House Statement on Medical Cannabis:
Picture of Lynch at Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting ceremony for his dispensary:
Drew Carey/Reason TV documentary short on Lynch:
Recent Los Angeles Times story on the trial:,0,6418930.story
Friends of Charles C. Lynch website:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Chorus of Gay Voices Made Themselves Heard in City Elections

Gay Voices Were Heard in City Elections

By Norm Kent

Some people in the gay community may be disappointed that Fort Lauderdale did not elect a gay mayor, but there is more still to be proud about. In the media, some have suggested gays failed. Not so.

First of all, two credible gay candidates marshaled nearly 40% of the vote in a city where our outgoing mayor spent the last two years demeaning our credibility.

Second, the incoming mayor is now, and has been an ongoing friend of the gay community. In fact, Jack Seiler once served as the Mayor of Wilton Manors and was an early supporter of the Express Gay News that I founded, the precursor to the very South Florida Blade you are reading today.

Third, the elections in Fort Lauderdale enticed many gay candidates to launch campaigns, and Coleman Prewitt is in a runoff for one open commission seat. The candidate he opposes, Romney Rogers, is a long time resident with entrenched establishment ties, and loves his city, but he has never loved or supported the gay community. However, you do not hear him bashing it openly, either.

More significantly, starting with the ‘Flush Naugle’ rallies last year, the gay community of Fort Lauderdale has sent a message to all future candidates in this growing metropolis. We have declared ourselves to be part and parcel of the process that is governance. We will not sit silently by while people in power accost or abuse who we are.

We have sent a political message that we are a strong and mobilizing force who can deliver votes to our supporters. More importantly than that, we have reminded our neighbors that we are partners in our community, and we own businesses, raise families, and care about the health and safety of our streets and schools. We are no longer scapegoats to be accused. We will not be indifferently ignored. We are the shared participants in a greater good.

There was a time, and it was not that long ago, when a human rights rally in South Florida would gather a dozen activists. Now a parade in Wilton Manors pulls together a hundred organizations with thousands of activists. We take for granted how much we have achieved. We are not unlike a tag from an old Virginia Slims television commercial promoting a popular cigarette for women, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’ And courageous leaders like Dean Trantalis helped bring us there.

It may be that gay mayoral candidates lost a race in the city of Fort Lauderdale. But never again will a mayoral candidate demean the gay community without subjecting himself to public approbation and putting his political career at risk.

If I were to start listing all the gay and lesbian leaders in Broward alone, now running for office and serving the community on a commission or in some capacity, this column would run too many words, and I would leave too many out. Suffice it to say, we are making a difference.

You have to remember there was a time when being gay would disqualify you from public office. Today, it may offer you a political base. I would say this to those who are gay and seek office though. Sell us something other than your sexuality. Come to us with a history of involvement and activism, courage and commitment. The straight community may care about who you are sleeping with. We don’t.

The message the gay community sends to Fort Lauderdale today is not that we are on the outside looking in, fighting for rights we do not have. Our collective voice has affirmatively established us as partners in the future. We have a place at the table. It did not come easy, was not turned over willingly, and cost us dearly. Finally, maybe after all these years, people are beginning to see us for who we are and what we achieve in our neighborhoods, instead of just who and what we do in our bedrooms.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Case Against Michael Phelps

The Case Against Michael Phelps

Why it is more Hype than Substance
By Norm Kent
On this blog, I do not give legal advice. I express legal opinions. The one everyone is asking about is can Michael Phelps actually be charged? After all, there is no proof there was anything in the pipe at all. There is no controlled substance to present to a court. There is not even a pipe which could lead to a paraphernalia charge. So how can they possibly prosecute him?

In my law office I have a steel Florida Marlin, stuffed by an ichthyologist, which I caught off the shores of Key West, in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.Under the fish, there is a plaque which reads, “Behold the bright, blue Marlin; this creature would not be here today had he not opened his big mouth yesterday.”Michael Phelps should have come by and read it. His publicized admission that he toked from a bong at a frat party in a South Carolina dorm has stirred a whirlwind of controversy and put him in harm’s way.

The real bad news came from the sheriff in the jurisdiction where Michael allegedly toked up, with a pronouncement that he was going to investigate the case to see if he could prosecute young Mr. Phelps.The sheriff’s public information teased the media: “The Richland County Sheriff's Department is making an effort to determine if Mr. Phelps broke the law. If he did, he will be charged in the same manner as anyone else...”

Sheriff Leon Lott then commented to a local newspaper about the quality of his case. He stated that “this one might be a lot easier since we have photographs of someone using drugs and a partial confession. It's a relatively easy case once we can determine where the crime occurred.'' Not so, Sheriff Lott. You are leaving out a lot.

First and foremost, look at Michael’s exact words, never acknowledging he smoked pot. Instead, there was a carefully worded admission that he engaged in regrettable behavior. It might even have been written by a publicist, more worried about that Speedo endorsement than a criminal prosecution. That does not a confession make. Score lap one for Phelps.

Second, what if some classmate who was at the party decides to turn the bong over to the authorities, instead of selling it on E Bay? If they find Michael Phelps’ fingerprints on it, along with residue of cannabis sativa, he can arguably be charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, since the pipe is supposedly packed with pot. But how would you know months later that the pot was not added after the fact? How would you prove it was the same bong? The Phelps defense would be that there is no continuous chain of custody which can establish there was contraband in the pipe at the time he held it in his hand. There is no way to show what was in the pipe when he held it. Phelps would win the second leg.

Third, the pictures alone are insufficient as a matter of law to sustain a conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia. Someone would have to come forth and authenticate it as an actual pipe. Someone would have to come forth and attest to the fact that they took the photo. Without real parties to affirm and swear to the authenticity of the alleged contraband, the evidence is entirely circumstantial and legally inadmissible. Phelps wins again.

Fourth, since the law prosecutes possession, and there is no way to prove that there was ever pot in the pipe when Michael exercised dominion and control over it, the charge would be subject to a Motion to Dismiss for failure to establish evidentiary proof of the contraband. Proof of possession typically requires an assertion by a drug testing laboratory, which is an arm of the sheriff’s office to swear that the substance with which you are charged is actually illegal. There is no pot to test. Phelps wins a fourth round.

Venue, or location is important too. In order for any prosecution to be initiated by a law enforcement agency, someone will have to come forward with a sworn statement and independently establish the location of the alleged act. Typically, a second degree misdemeanor is not an extraditable offense. All Michael has to do is stay out of South Carolina. Phelps wins a fifth lap.

However, do not lose sight over the fact that Michael’s unsolicited statement could be used in tandem with witnesses to convict him after the fact. Just as you do not need a body to establish a murder, if the sheriff brought in a witness who said he put pot in the pipe, a second person who said ‘I handed Mike the pipe with pot in it’, a third person who said ‘I saw Mike smoke the pipe with pot in it, and I am sure it was pot based on my experience,’ and tied that up with Mike’s admissions and a picture, who someone could say was taken contemporaneously with the criminal conduct, he could arguably go down.

But even then there is a problem for the prosecution.Under the legal doctrine of Corpus Delicti, a defendant's confession or admission of guilt cannot be introduced until after the state has presented evidence showing that a crime has in fact occurred. So Phelp's admission cannot come into play or even be used as evidence until the commission of an actual crime is established through other, substantial competent evidence.

This last scenario would require testimony from other witnesses who were at the bong party with Michael. These persons would have to come forward and admit to their own conduct as either equally guilty culprits or co-conspirators. It means they too would be putting their own scholarships and educational privileges at risk, and they are not sitting with millions of dollars in endorsements.

In essence, I suspect that very soon the Sheriff will publish a statement that after ‘due diligence,’ his ‘investigation’ revealed an insufficient basis upon which to proceed. And maybe the next time Mr. Phelps gets caught with marijuana he will stand up and courageously say: “It’s normal to smoke pot. I am an Olympic gold medal winning athlete and it has not impaired me one bit.”

If he does, I will invite Michael to join the NORML advisory board. I will even buy him his own bong.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

10 Reasons to Get High About Pot in 2009

Ten Reasons to Get High About Pot in 2009

By Norm Kent

Okay, it is only February 1st, and more people this year have already died from peanut butter than pot.

Seriously, when you think about what has crossed the pages of our nation’s conscience in the past month, you have to wonder why we are all not getting high.

With thanks to Michael Phelps, I have ten good reasons to believe drug law reform will ‘take’ this year. Here is why.

Number One: The President

First of all, we elected a President who has admitted inhaling, and whose half brother just got arrested in Kenya for possession of marijuana. Growing up in urban Chicago, and having come from Hawaii, home of ‘Maui Waui,’ we have a man in the oval office that has an herbal background.

I am therefore not intimidated that, on his third day in office, while he was working on a nationwide economic stimulus package, some renegade prosecutors raided a medical dispensary in California. Those ugly efforts will cease soon enough. I am encouraged by President Obama’s prior public statements that such raids are counterproductive and provide illusory answers to real problems.

Number Two: The Medicine

Just as I was exploring the placement of my mom into an assisted living facility for early stage Alzheimer’s patients, I see a study released by Ohio State University this month. The research is indicating that marijuana has some potential capacity to reduce brain inflammation, which plays a role in Alzheimer’s. Mom, those brownies might taste differently next week.

While evidence showing the benefits of marijuana in multiple sclerosis cases has been advancing significantly, work in Alzheimer’s disease is still in its infancy. Still, another recent study performed at the Scripps Research Institute in California found that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, inhibits the formation of a brain plaque that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

Number Three: The Politics

If you light up a joint while walking down High Street in Medford, Massachusetts, not much is likely to happen to you. As of Jan. 2, Massachusetts became one of 12 states that have decriminalized marijuana possession to some extent. The new civil penalties for possession of less than 1 ounce include a $100 fine and forfeiture of one’s stash for those over 18 years of age. Minors will receive the same fine and be required to attend drug education classes.
In city after city, and state after state, once silent minorities are becoming vocal majorities and voting to enact legislation freeing marijuana from unjust law enforcement. When given the chance, we are winning the war against prohibition. Legislators in Michigan, Connecticut and even Florida are starting to re-introduce bills to lower penalties for pot. The whirlwind is commencing; just ask anyone in a dorm room within a wave of the White House after the inauguration.

Number Four: The Media

Marijuana has gone mainstream. Media outlets are no longer hiding in the shadows afraid to produce honest reports about the culture of marijuana. We are less likely to see commercials of pot smokers having their brains grilled in a frying pan. We are more likely to view legitimate programming which produces truths rather than trash about your stash.

One such report was featured on NBC news last week, a snippet of an hour long production on MSNBC entitled ‘Marijuana, Inc.’ Focusing more on economics then the sociology of pot, the well-supported report inescapably concluded that marijuana commerce is here to stay and unlikely to change. As even the NY Daily News said, “When it comes to marijuana, a whole lot of people voted some time ago to just say yes.” Ask the cast of the award winning HBO show, ‘Weeds,’ which captures a growing American spirit.

Number Five: The Public

Even the Department of Health has said that 95 million Americans have over the age of 21 have tried marijuana at least once. Everyone except Bill Clinton has inhaled. The anti drug warriors have a hard time explaining to the average adult in the 21st century that millions of Americans are wrong when they light up every day.

It is normal to smoke pot. The vast amount of marijuana users today are parents choosing to calm down instead of liquor up, not just kids, looking to get high after class. Of course, they are too, adults treating arthritis, patients using it for multiple sclerosis, or people with HIV fighting a wasting syndrome. Pot smokers cross ethnic, sociological, and economic boundaries.

Number Six: The Celebrities

There is a lot of reason to hate the celebrity culture, paparazzi, and people who get their daily pulp from finding out where Brittany Spears went shopping. As more media types get busted with pot, the less newsworthy it becomes. The public could care less. An arrest for pot is not a career-ending event. As I finish this piece and send it off for distribution, I am watching Snoop Doggy Dogg being interviewed on ESPN for the NFL Countdown to the Super Bowl. It does not seem to have hurt him. And guess what Michael Phelps got caught doing this weekend? Toking off a bong!

Macauly Culkin, Bud Bundy, Willie Nelson, Art Garfunkel, and Al Gore’s son also make the High Subscription List. So do Allen Iverson, Matthew McConaughey, Whitney Houston, Oliver Stone, and even Queen Latifah. All have posted bail for pot. They are not doing too badly for themselves. Go visit for more information.

Number Seven: The Growers

In speaking out against rescheduling marijuana so as to remove it from its classification as dangerous, the most significant point that the Office of Drug Control Policy makes is that today’s weed ‘is not your grandfather’s pot.’

Exactly! It is not, but they miss the mark when they say today’s pot is ‘stronger.’
Today’s pot is also cleaner, safer, and healthier to consume. From vaporizers to hydroponic labs, the marijuana grown and consumed today is more precisely cultivated, carefully processed, and lovingly manicured then the mold-encased, dried-out weed we grew up on decades ago. That pot was often delivered to Americans from overseas after being buried in the dark, musky cargo hulls of ships for weeks at a time.

Now that Americans grow our own marijuana at home, we do not hear stories on a daily basis about people smoking rat poison or buying oregano. We have returned to the roots of our forefathers, lest we forget that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all grew hemp. They did not turn out too bad, either. Today’s pot growers are the new revolutionary farmers.

Number Eight: The Police and Jails

Sadly, the criminal justice system in America is teeming with serious crimes and violence against Americans. A Department of Homeland Security must necessarily focus on threats from abroad. From drive-by shootings to corporate white collar crime, the jails in our country are simply not capable of housing all those who should arguably be locked up. So law enforcement has to prioritize. Building jails and keeping people in prisons costs more money than communities can afford. Pot smokers are the residual beneficiaries.

The necessities of twenty first century law enforcement have reduced pot to secondary priorities. More and more cities are encouraging cops to treat simple pot possession as a civil traffic infraction and just write a ticket. As those progressive initiatives take hold, pot prosecutions will diminish and pot users will be treated more fairly.

Number Nine: The Non Profits

The wealth of non profit organizations advocating drug law reform is growing exponentially. We are not just NORML anymore. Benefactors like Peter Lewis and George Soros have underwritten drug reform movements the way Hugh Hefner once helped NORML. The Marijuana Policy Project, Students for a Sane Drug Policy, the Drug Policy Alliance, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition are just a small sampling of honorable groups fighting to change the public perception in the way drug consumers are viewed and treated. If you enhance their efforts today, there is less of a chance that you will be bonding yourself or your child out of jail tomorrow.

Number Ten: The Internet

There is no better way to end this column then to point towards the awesome power of networking to generate partnerships for the common good. Overnight, hundreds of thousands of reformers can be linked for a specific goal, a targeted protest, or unified voice to speak out for or against a new law or proposed regulation.

The NORML blog and podcast draws hundreds of thousands of Americans daily who would otherwise never be reached but for the arm of the ‘Net., and are amongst the target specific Internet resources drug law reformers can access instantly. There are too many more to mention.

Finally, the Internet has spawned awesome networking groups such as Facebook and My Space, where activists, organizers, and reformers can synthesize their partnerships and causes. And there is always something new unfolding, like Twitter, which I have not figured out, but I know is catching on.

It's Up to Us

For too many years, pot smokers have been political prisoners, captive to repressive government and a rolling tide. 2009 represents a renewed opportunity to make the waters of justice run our way again.