With Proposition 203’s passage, a lot of people are excited for the next few months in Arizona. Those with debilitating diseases will be able to legally be prescribed and purchase marijuana to ease their pain. This in effect decriminalizes marijuana for a select portion of the population. This is new territory for the whole state, to include law enforcement officials. Police, who respect and enforce the laws, will have to adapt to a one hundred and eighty degree turn in what was before a large part of their job. Reversing a portion of the drug war will not happen overnight, and it will require a substantial amount of training. In the mean time, those who hold medical marijuana cards will need to be especially careful not to run afoul of otherwise well meaning police officers.
Up until now, police have been responsible for location and identifying marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. In Arizona, illegal possession of even a small amount of pot can carry a large fine and possibly jail time. New questions will have to be answered as training standards are instituted, such as:
Should officers ask first if the person is a medical marijuana card upon detection of a suspicious odor?
Should they still search them if they are a card holder and the only reasonable suspicion is a marijuana like odor?
Should the amount being carried to be weighed and measured to determine if the amount is within the standard established by the proposition?
How do you establish whether or not someone is a medical marijuana card holder if they left their card at home?
These are not easy questions to answer. Policy decisions are always a balancing act of personal liberties, officer and public safety, and proper enforcement of the statutes. Until these decisions are hashed out and passed down to the policemen and women on the ground, there will without a doubt be some confusion on how to proceed with a medical marijuana card holder. Mistakes will be made with all good intentions, and some otherwise law abiding citizens may be targeted unfairly.
The police’s actions are out of the hands of the author or, most likely, the person reading this article. The action a law abiding citizen who carries a medical marijuana card takes, however, can mean the difference between being caught up in a false arrest and being sent on their way by a police officer or sheriff’s deputy.
The card holder should not simply rely on their doctor’s prescription as being enough. They should realize that some will probably try to forge these, and police will most likely have no way of verifying them anyway. Instead, the card holder should have a second professional on his side: a criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense lawyer should be put on retainer through a simple consultation meeting and a small amount placed as a down payment in case of legal services needed. In addition, the attorney will be familiar with the card holder and their prescription, so if they are detained by police the lawyer can be contacted and will speak on behalf of the person being detained. A reputable and effective attorney is invaluable in situations involving the police, and can make the difference between spending a night in jail and being sent on their way, legal marijuana in tow.
Don’t skip what could be an important step in self-protection while the state is in this period of transition: hire a criminal defense attorney before you find yourself in an otherwise avoidable situation.