The 2016 NORML Aspen Legal Seminar
I just returned a few days ago from a lovely long weekend in beautiful Aspen, CO, a charming old silver-mining town in the Rocky Mountains with breath-taking views, that serves as a popular playground for skiers in the winter and biking and hiking enthusiasts in the other seasons. And it is the location of an annual NORML legal seminar held each year in early June.
The Seminar Itself
First, for those attorneys who attend this event, it is a truly unique opportunity to hear from some of the most brilliant and creative criminal defense and marijuana business attorneys in the country.
This year the attendees heard San Antonio’s Gerry Goldstein present his annual review of the many 4th Amendment decisions handed down by the Supreme Court, and the federal appellate courts, each year. Few lawyers in America are more familiar with the legal intricacies of search and seizure law, or can present the information in such an entertaining manner. And NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano, who lectured on the science legalization advocates need to know to counter the frequent claim that “we just don’t know enough about marijuana,” citing more than 23,000 marijuana studies available on Pub Med.
Former ACLU lawyer Adam Wolfe from San Francisco discussed the several legal challenges to the CO legalization law; while Mary Chartier and Natalie Alane from Lansing, MI, lectured on the impact of marijuana use on child welfare and custody cases.
This year we heard from a range of impressive new speakers as well, including Carl Hart, Ph.D, from Columbia University, talking about ways that marijuana legalization can significantly reduce racism in the criminal justice system; and Emily Gant, from Seattle, whose lecture “Marijuana Business 101,” analyzed the basic business issues with which any attorney needs to be familiar, if they intend to represent some of the newly legal marijuana businesses arising either in the medical use states or the full legalization states.
And certainly one of the more inspiring lectures was given by former US Attorney for the state of Kansas (he had retired just three weeks earlier), Barry Grissom, entitled “Why Marijuana Legalization Makes Sense from the Perspective of a US Attorney”, in which he compared the record of the Obama administration with that of three prior administrations. Grissom stressed the several significant steps taken by President Barack Obama and his Department of Justice to reduce the length of non-violent drug sentences and the number of non-violent drug offenders serving time in federal prisons; and the administration’s willingness to stand-back and permit the several states to fully implement their various marijuana laws, free from federal government interference. It reminded us that not all prosecutors are mean-spirited, and some of them are seeking justice, just like most defense attorneys.
And we heard from Law Professor Sam Kamin, who holds the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy position at Denver Law School, discussing ways to overcome the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws; Lisa Padilla from New York discussing estate planning techniques for cannabis business owners; Mary Conn from Houston, TX discussing the damage to society of criminalizing mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness; Danica Noble of Seattle discussing the unfair business practices and consumer protection issues emerging in the newly legal marijuana markets; and Portland, OR attorney Courtney Moran discussing the law and history of industrial hemp.
Those who might enjoy listening to these lectures, you can find those audio files online, thanks to Cannabis Radio personality “Radical” Russ Belville.
The Social Events – More Than Just Fun
The weather this year was perfect, with brilliant blue skies and temperatures in the low and mid-severties, and the opening reception on the roof of the Gant conference center; the benefit dinner at the fabulous log-cabin mansion of Christine and Gerry Goldstein, catered by Cache Cache Chef Chris Lanter; and the Saturday afternoon picnic with live music at Owl Farm, the legendary home of the late Hunter S. Thompson, were all fabulous events giving the seminar attendees and their guests special memories to last a lifetime (one attorney, as he was leaving, said to me, “I just wish I had discovered this seminar 10-years earlier!”).
In short, these various NORML events held throughout the year provide a valuable opportunity for those of us who are responsible marijuana smokers to make new friends and meet new colleagues who share our support for legalization, and to renew friendships we have made in earlier years. It is largely from this network of like-minded individuals that we draw the inspiration and emotional strength required to continue the struggle to end prohibition.
The Community of Marijuana Smokers
While it was certainly not the intention of those who initially put prohibition in place in the early 20th century, in fact prohibition forced those of us who did not accept the government’s exaggerated anti-marijuana propaganda, and who chose to find a way to obtain and smoke marijuana despite the threat of harsh criminal penalties, to build an underground community comprised of others who share our values and were also willing to assume the legal risks associated with “scoring” and using marijuana. Those same oppressive forces who dedicated their lives to arresting and jailing marijuana smokers were unwittingly establishing an underground culture that would nurture us during the most difficult years, and help us find a black-market supply of marijuana all during the decades of prohibition.
And that was no small task. Without the many daring smugglers and growers and “dealers” willing to risk long prison sentences to provide us consumers with marijuana, we would have had no marijuana to smoke; and with no marijuana to smoke, there would be no marijuana legalization movement.
We need to recognize the crucial role these brave pot pioneers have played in getting us to where we are today, and to find the political courage to demand those individuals who remain in jail be freed, and those with criminal records have their records expunged. Otherwise we find ourselves finally winning this long, terrible war against marijuana smokers, but leaving our POWs behind. That is neither a moral or ethical option.
Inspired and Re-Energized
As I left Aspen this year, and headed home to Washington, DC, I was reminded of the tremendous value these communal experiences play in our personal and professional lives. We draw critical strength and energy and inspiration, and our commitment to change is reinforced, when we spend quality time with others who share our political views and our belief in the importance of ending prohibition.
I would encourage any of you who share our values and political goals to join us at the next opportunity, to take a public stand for freedom. The 2016 NORML Key West Legal seminar on December 7, 8 and 9 would be a good place to start.
This column firs ran in Marijuana.com.
Photo courtesy of EQRoy / Shutterstock.com