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Thomas Dean - Flag's Own Marijuana Lawyer


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When Thomas Dean was in high school, he watched his friends get in trouble for smoking marijuana and didn't see any reason for it. Some were expelled from school, while others ended up in juvenile detention.

As he got older, Dean became passionate about reform, and in college he got involved with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Those experiences steered him toward a life spent challenging the status quo on marijuana law.

"It's in marijuana prohibition that we find the front line in the defense of the constitutional rights that we enjoy," Dean said. "That's where the rubber meets the road."

Now a lawyer, Dean has been defending clients in marijuana cases in Flagstaff for the last 14 years. He represents clients charged with everything from minor possession to transporting hundreds of pounds of marijuana on I-40. And since Proposition 203 was passed by voters in November, he's also advising and representing clients involved with medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state.


Recently, he defended a client who had been driving through Mohave County with marijuana in his car. A police officer had pulled over his client, a competition snowboarder from California, and smelled the lingering odor of fresh marijuana. When the officer asked him if he had marijuana with him, the man produced a small bag of it along with his medical marijuana prescription card issued in California. The officer cited the man for possession of marijuana and then let him go.

Dean petitioned for the case to be dismissed based on a provision within Proposition 203 that allows out-of-state medical marijuana cards to be used in Arizona if they were issued for one of the serious ailments that the state recognizes.

The case represents the first such dismissal in the state under the new law.

But last week wasn't the first time Dean had played an up-front role in the battle for medicinal marijuana. In 1998, he became the legal director for NORML and moved to Washington, D.C., to work with the group that helped bring him into the politics of pot in the first place.

The district had just passed a law legalizing marijuana for medicinal uses, but Congress quickly asserted its powers over the district to strike it down. NORML worked with ACT-UP, a group that had organized efforts to put the initiative on the D.C. ballot, and notified city leaders that they intended to open medical marijuana dispensaries in defiance of Congress. According to Dean, the city council, mayor and police chief all agreed that they would stick by the votes of D.C. residents and not make any arrests.

Understanding that what they were doing was still illegal, they organized the network so that the people growing, distributing and prescribing the drug would have as little criminal exposure as possible. They were upfront about what they were doing, but discreet about the actual distribution channels.

As a result, an underground network of dispensaries was set up that continued to operate until D.C. managed to enact an official law several years later.


But not only is Dean an ardent supporter of the medicinal uses of marijuana, he believes it should be legal to use recreationally as well.

"There's no way you can figure out why this stuff is illegal," Dean said. "It doesn't make much sense to me when we tell people that they can go home and have a martini, but they can't smoke a bowl of marijuana."

Dean says marijuana is a prime target in the war on drugs simply because it's used much more commonly than other substances. And he thinks marijuana is also just an easy thing to get busted for because of its distinctive smell and how long it can be detected in the body.

"My concern has always been primarily individual rights and I've always been interested in the dichotomy between the government and the individual," Dean said. "The war on drugs has had a damning role on individual rights."


He likes to frame the state of marijuana law as a federalist crisis, where 15 states and the District of Columbia have taken steps toward legalizing marijuana in some role and yet it's still considered illegal by the U.S. government. If the president is elected to a second term, he hopes Obama will consider reclassifying marijuana from its current status as a class one substance, or one the Drug Enforcement Administration considers to have a high potential for abuse and no medical value. That reclassification would not require congressional approval.

"It would be nice if we humans didn't feel the need to want to consume psychoactive chemicals and plants," Dean said, "but that's not the reality."

He rejects the common stereotype that many people have of marijuana smokers as lazy and unintelligent. According to Dean, marijuana might reduce activity in the brain while a person's high, but that activity returns to normal once the effect wears off. He says marijuana poses no major threat to health and says any societal dangers shouldn't be the government's concern, adding that he's considering getting a medical marijuana card himself.

"The worst thing about smoking marijuana is getting caught," he said.


As Arizona has worked to shape its medical marijuana program, Dean has been playing a role by working with patients interested in getting cards and caregivers looking to provide marijuana. He's representing dispensaries in Flagstaff, Prescott and Tempe.

But even as his role in the medical marijuana community continues, he said he's just happy to contribute.

"Some people looked at this as a money-maker," Dean said. "I just wanted to be sure I was involved in helping these dispensaries."

Eric Betz can be reached at ebetz@azdailysun.com or 556-2250.

NewsHawk: MedicalNeed: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: zdailysun.com
Copyright: 2011 azdailysun.com
Contact: Arizona Daily Sun Staff Directory - Contact page
Website: Flag's own marijuana lawyer
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