Twelve High Chicks thanks guest contributor Dennis Boisvert of POW420 for this article on knowing your (medical) cannabis rights in the USA. This article is experiential and should not be taken as legal advice.

This is going to be an explanation of how the US Justice System works from pull-over to deal/sentencing as seen by an advocate.

First of all you need to know your rights and how they are applied. Understand that any police officer you communicate with may not necessarily respect your rights, and may be willing to lie in court because they believe you’re “evil.” From first contact that should be in the back of your mind.

Flashing Lights

As soon as you see lights go on behind you, you still have your rights as a citizen. Remember that cannabis prohibition is in fact tyranny, and you have to protect yourself from this tyranny.

When you pull over, don’t roll the window down in the car more than four inches — just enough so you can speak to the police officer and pass licence and registration through the window. This establishes two things: you’re not going to have a police officer reaching inside the car and they’re going to know that you understand that you have some civil rights.

Accept that there’s a few things you need to say to a police officer when they walk up to the car. The typical question they ask is “do you know how fast you were going?” You don’t have to volunteer any information; the reply should be “no” or the posted speed limit. Remember to be pleasant but firm.

If they ask to search the car, say no. If the encounter involves an arrest, your attorney will ask the court to establish whether the search was legal. Police have to have some sort of reasonable grounds or probable cause to search without permission. But if you give permission to search, then no matter what happens it was legal.

Ideally you will have a smartphone recording and/or broadcasting the incident, ready to upload to an app like ACLU-CA’s Mobile Justice CA or a third-party storage site. That gives you, regardless of what next happens to your cell phone, access to your recorded evidence of the incident.

In Custody

Eventually, you are either on your way or taken into custody. Remember two tools of the police to control you are intimidation and coercion. Do not say another word to the police. Even if they remind you of your best friend’s father, no matter what, just ask to speak to a lawyer. Depending on your zip (or postal) code this can be more or less intimidating and difficult.

Next comes intimidation and coercion from the prosecution. Remember, don’t just take the first deal offered. Prosecutors want to make a deal fast; if everybody took their cases to trial, there wouldn’t be enough prosecutors or courtrooms available. When it comes down to it, the prosecution doesn’t want to go to trial either. They do not want to sit a jury. So you will get your best deal nearer that point.

In American courtrooms, one of the first questions they ask you is “do you waive your right to a speedy trial?” If you refuse to waive that right that means the time to prepare a case against you is extremely limited. And most defence attorneys don’t even start planning a trial until two weeks before it starts. But this is an option that should be discussed with your attorney before you are asked that question.

Defence Costs

Even if you’re a registered medical patient, if a police officer decides that your paperwork is not valid and arrests you, you have to go to court to prove it’s legal using affirmative defence. Depending on a lawyer’s reputation and skill level this can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 US. And if it goes to trial it’s maybe $25,000–30,000 US in legal fees.

Billable hours is what your attorney uses to charge when you talk to them, so be sure to clarify when you’re just having friendly banter and when you’re being billed. When picking your defence attorney they will require a retainer. This might be a single advance payment or a recurring (e.g. monthly) payment.

Remember, you are the boss; you hired them. The best thing to do is to know, upfront, how much pretrial motions, procedures, and hearings are going to cost. And however much the trial is going to cost, have that in the retainer. Because you didn’t take the first deal the prosecution offered.  

This is all predicated on your ability to pay for your lawyer/counsel and you don’t need to rely on government-provided legal assistance. Clearly you have to be wealthy or have legal insurance to be able to pay these fees. This gives an advantage to the state.  

Justice or Just-Us

The fact is the outcome of a cannabis trial really is anybody’s guess. But before you get to that point, these are steps in between within a system designed to intimidate you, and drain you and your family mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. This is to force you to give up the challenge and your rights.

If you are powerful or you control enough wealth that means you can buy your way free of the system. But if you’re not of that class….

The fact is from the point of you being charged everybody you’ve come into contact with is being paid by the state. And they’re not questioning the efficacy of what they’re doing. Remember the only people in that courtroom not getting paid are you and your supporters. Everybody else works for the state and is paid by the state.