Denver Bar Association
February 2001
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Mary Jane and Huck Finn



Please write letters to the editor about any article. Send them to kbries@cobar.org.

I’ve been reading with interest your interviews with law student Tom Finn. Is he related to Huck? You’ll probably remember that early on Huck also accepted most everything at face value. It wasn’t until later that he started questioning Aunt Polly.

Maybe one of Tom’s first learning experiences as a lawyer would be to not believe everything he hears. Proper legal analysis would suggest that he get the facts before passing judgment.

In your last interview, he said he was incensed with the whole mentality in America about people getting a windfall through lawsuits. He mentioned something about a lady getting a chicken head in her food order, and he was sure that she would reap rewards from a law suit. If he believes all the propaganda about ludicrous cases then he is starting off on the wrong foot, at least to my way of thinking.

As he learns more about the legal system, I’m counting on him to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. Aspiring to be Huck may not be all that bad.

— John Sadwith, Executive Director
Colorado Trial Lawyers Association

It may be time to review some basic American civics. The people being governed set out broad concepts of government in a document known as a constitution. This same constitution establishes legislative and executive branches to fill in the details. Of course, the constitution needs to provide for amendment by the people, because it is after all their constitution.

This concept of constitutional government has worked quite well, but Madison and Jefferson would be surprised to see the details being added to state constitutions these days. A few years ago a real estate developer in Denver proposed a constitutional amendment to allow gambling in the few square blocks of LoDo where he owned property. In response, a member of The Docket committee offered an amendment to change the two-way street he lived on to a one-way street. We didn’t get enough signatures on that one, either (though we did get a few on the companion measure to move the state capitol to the western slope town of Paonia).

Last November, the voters of Colorado added Section 14 to Article XVIII of our constitution. What broad based principle of government does Section 14 establish? Why, the use of marijuana for medical purposes, of course.

The medical marijuana amendment seems simple enough. If you have a note from your doctor and are registered with the state, you can acquire, grow and possess a limited amount of this illegal substance and not violate the state’s drug laws. However, all of these activities remain federal crimes, so you still need to sneak around like a criminal if you engage in this conduct. And the guy you bought the stuff from has still committed a crime, even though you purchased it legally (does anyone see any equal protection arguments available to the pusher in this scenario?).

As political satirist P.J. O’Rourke once said about U.S. foreign policy, this law is something that can be understood. What it can’t be is believed. Physicians can prescribe all sorts of heavy-duty narcotic drugs with nary a notice from society. Just take the prescription to your neighborhood pharmacy and start to feel better immediately. But under this amendment, if you want the pain relief from a debilitating medical condition that marijuana might provide, you need to register with the state and then find an illegal street source for your purchase. A friend recently returned from the hospital with enough narcotics to satisfy Doonsebury’s Uncle Duke (motto: if one’s good, two’s better) for a month. But if a mild hit on a joint might help this friend in her post-surgical recovery, she would have to commit a crime or petition the state for a marijuana registration card.

Even if you get a registration card from the state, you need to find some 19-year-old in your neighborhood or circle of friends who will know where to make the score, thus making him a criminal as well (though, if your 19-year-old knows where to buy grass, odds are this is not a first time criminal enterprise for him).

This is obviously a draconian law. But what is really sad is that its proponents needed to go this route at all. The legislature allows a doctor to use cocaine for nasal procedures and prescribe synthetic heroin for pain. But without this amendment this same doctor cannot arrange for marijuana use that can provide relief to a terminal cancer patient, even though this drug may be more safe than tobacco and is used by large numbers of people similarly to that other legal drug, alcohol. See if you can spot the logic in this aspect of our dangerous drug laws.

The amendment process often produces laws that resemble a mythical beast, with five legs, two heads and horns pointed sideways. Nevertheless, we should be grateful that the people have the right to make obtuse laws as well as intelligent laws. Our elected representatives have exercised that right for years.

-Wished to remain anonymous



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