Today I am going to come out of the closet a second time, but now as a Bi-Coastal cannabis consumer.
I lead two lives; one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.
In Fort Lauderdale, I own a townhouse where I have resided for over a quarter of a century. In this community, I am a lawyer and a spokesman for NORML, very active in drug law reform.
But I cannot practice what I preach. That would be illegal.
In California, however, I found a small town near Berkley, east of San Francisco Bay, where I may retire. There, I may eventually choose to grow my own pot where I am allowed to do so.
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where I practice law, and get people out of trouble for growing pot, I have to defend people who do what I am entitled to do in California legally. The rules are different here.
In early 2006, my Florida roommate, after learning he was HIV positive, decided to move back to his hometown of San Francisco. As a pot consumer, he realized he could acquire medicinal recommendations for marijuana, and thus grow pot legally under California law.
We went to San Fran together, to a community I have visited and loved since the early 1970s, from my first spectacular drive up the Pacific Coast highway. We found and rented a small apartment in the Castro, where I first met Harvey Milk. He was so right when he told us in the gay community to come out. If only pot smokers had done the same over the past 40 years.
The Florida laws are not kind or generous to cannabis users. Cultivation of any amount is a second degree felony, punishable by imprisonment. Last month, one of my clients went to jail for growing the same amount of pot in a year in Miami-Dade County that another client cultivates legally in a day in Denver.
It has been twenty years since California voters enacted Proposition 215, which allowed citizens to utilize marijuana for medical purposes if a person had a legitimate need. As a recovering cancer patient, I more than qualified for a medical marijuana recommendation.
I sought out a legitimate physician, not one running a medical marijuana mill. I came with a full set of medical records tracking my unenviable medical past, including recent spinal surgery. The doctor thoughtfully reviewed with me the medical risks associated with the use of cannabis. Not that I did not have a little experience. I mean, I am 65 years old this year. My friends’ kids go to Bonnaroo. I lived through Woodstock.
After the screening, my physician then appropriately certified me as an individual who could benefit from the medical use of cannabis.
Just like that, I became patient number 380206011.
I then proceeded to a medical dispensary, proudly armed with a State of California Medical Marijuana Identification Card.
As a California patient, I am empowered to acquire cannabis lawfully at medical dispensaries. Under the California Health and Safety Code, I am also allowed to grow up to six plants of my own in my little apartment on the bay. I do not have to hide them from the authorities.
I joined the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, and was issued a Growers Certificate. It affirms that any herbs I cultivate at home would be grown for my personal medical use. I was now at liberty to grow my own medicine. It is still called pot in Florida.
Twenty-four states and scores of communities across our country have either decriminalized, ‘medicalized’ or now legalized marijuana. Michael Phelps wins gold medals using it, but the DEA, even in 2016, won't reschedule it. How stupid is that?
Our federal government claims marijuana is not medicine. As such, it criminalizes all marijuana possession, use, or cultivation, regardless of what the states do. This year, six more states, including Florida, get to stand up to the federal government, and just say 'yes, we can-nabis!'
Still, we can't be ambivalent. If they chose to, federal law enforcement officials could prosecute medical marijuana patients, even if state authorities will not- even if they reside in a state where medical marijuana use is protected by state law.
But even if you have a medical right to possess cannabis in California it does not give you a legal right to grow or possess it in Florida. Though some clients of mine have tried, if you are stopped for smoking in Miami Beach and pull out a medical marijuana card from Santa Monica, it won’t fly. Tell it to your bondsman.
Welcome then to my conflicted life. In California I can grow my own medicine in my apartment. In Florida, police could raid my house and the Florida Bar could seize my card. Instead of representing a grower, I would need a lawyer to represent me. Florida would not care that I am patient number 380206011 in California. What is wrong with that picture? Why is freedom contingent upon a zip code?
NORML, the National Organization to Reform the Marijuana Laws, has spent 40 years trying to stem the tide of repression and advance the rights of cannabis consumers.
If there was ever a time to be part of our effort, it is now.
We all need to come out of the closet and admit that since the 1970s America's drug war was more criminal than marijuana itself. From personal experience, so many of us now know how unjust arrest and incarceration is- and has been. It's 2016. Let's say so.