Friday, March 28, 2014

How to Start a Legal Marijuana Dispensary in California

If you're interested in starting your own medical marijuana dispensary in California, you must first recognize the risks inherent in doing so.  Once you recognize the risks, you can work to mitigate them.  Put simply, there is no "safe" way to operate a dispensary.  By strictly complying with all applicable laws, regulations and guidelines, however, you can seriously reduce the chances that you will run afoul of the law.

Marijuana remains illegal federally, but the Obama administration has indicated that it will not seek to bust those individuals who remain in "clear and unambiguous" compliance with the laws of their state.  Unfortunately, nobody is in "clear and unambiguous" compliance with California law because California law is unclear and ambiguous itself.  The unsettled status of our law has created a "green rush" through a legal minefield.  Unfortunately, many cannabis entrepreneurs fail to take the appropriate legal precautions before wading into this new, dangerous and evolving industry. They often learn about the risks the hard way.  

When operating a marijuana dispensary, your mantra must always be "CYA" (Cover Your A**). Keeping your proverbial ducks in a row will reduce the risk of attracting unwanted attention from law enforcement. Maintaining proper, professionally-prepared documentation will also help establish your legal defenses if you are ever accused of any crimes related to the operation of your dispensary.  

Many of my clients call me after they've been raided.  They've often failed to properly cover their a**es when they were setting up and running their dispensaries.  Now they face serious criminal charges for conspiracy, cultivation, transportation, possession and sale of marijuana.  Their documentation may be improper or insufficient to establish a medical defense.  Prosecutors can prove that my clients were growing marijuana or trading it for money, but my clients cannot prove that their activities were performed pursuant to any lawfully-organized cannabis club.  

Don't make this mistake.     

Before you begin the process of forming your dispensary, you should consult with a qualified attorney (such as myself) to ensure your compliance with local laws.  Our firm offers a variety of services to cannabis start-ups, including initial consulting services, help with business formation (filing articles of incorporation, depending on the business entity that best suits your individual circumstances), obtaining a Seller's Permit and Employer Identification Number, drafting of necessary documents that your dispensary will use in daily operations (contracts, bylaws, membership agreements, etc.), ensuring continuing compliance, and training your employees on the law.  

After consulting with a qualified attorney, you must begin the process of creating your business plan.  Your business plan will include such considerations as the form that your business entity will take.  Depending on the size of your proposed project and the number of partners involved, you might choose to organize as a collective, a cooperative or a non-profit mutual interest corporation. Your attorney will explain the advantages and disadvantages of each business form.  Some types of business entities require you to file complicated documents with the Secretary of State, including Articles of Incorporation and governing bylaws.  Our firm can handle this entire process for you, or we can simply advise you if you wish to prepare and file the documents yourself.  

Once you've formed your business entity by filing the appropriate documents with the state, you must apply for a Seller's Permit and Employee Identification Number for tax purposes.  Unlike other types of "medicine", the California Board of Equalization has determined that medical marijuana is taxable and that dispensaries must pay sales taxes.  Again, we can prepare the necessary documentation for you, or else we can provide helpful advice if you wish to do it yourself.  

After your dispensary is properly formed and you have your Seller's Permit / EIN, you must begin the laborious process of drafting the various contracts and agreements for members, growers, transporters, employees, caregivers, etc.  Our firm will draft original contracts to specifically meet the needs of your unique dispensary.  

Once your shop is open and running, you must take care to ensure that your employees are adequately trained on both the law and the shop's in-house policies.  As the owner, you may be held legally responsible for crimes committed by your employees in certain circumstances.  You can also be sued or exposed to civil liability for activities that occur in and around your dispensary.  We can advise you regarding how to limit your own exposure to costly civil lawsuits and to criminal liability for crimes committed by your employees.  We can also provide regular employee training and continuing consulting services to ensure that your dispensary remains compliant with the evolving laws.  

If you've ever considered starting your own marijuana dispensary in California, call our office today to schedule an initial consultation.  (714) 505-2468. 

Thanks for reading.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Rules for Possessing and Transporting Firearms in California

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about California's wacky approach to weapons laws.  If you read that post, available here, you already know that it's legal to keep a machete under the driver's seat of your car, but it's illegal to keep a baseball bat in your own home if the bat's intended use is as a weapon.  You can carry a 12-inch Bowie knife on your belt, but you can be arrested for keeping an extendable baton under your bed for self-defense.  Samurai swords are legal; nunchucks are not. You may carry this concealed upon your person, but not this.  I never said these rules made sense.

All these California laws about knives, clubs and martial arts weapons were so goofy, I decided to save firearms for another day.  Well, today is that day.  Luckily, the rules about guns are a little simpler than the nonsensical 4-tier approach that we use to classify other weapons.

To oversimplify things, there are 3 main laws governing how / where you may possess firearms in California.  And of course, each of these laws contain exceptions, exemptions and caveats.  The Big Three laws regarding possession of firearms in California are as follows:

1) You may not carry a concealed (or "concealable") firearm in any public place or in the passenger area of your car (PC 25400).  Handguns must be locked and out of reach during transport.
2) You may not carry a loaded firearm within any incorporated city (PC 25850), and
3) You may not "open carry" any sort of firearm (handgun, rifle or shotgun) outside of your vehicle within any incorporated city (PC 26350 & PC 26400).  Since last year, California is no longer an "open carry" state.  You may still, however, carry an unloaded rifle or shotgun in your vehicle, e.g. in a gun rack.

Of course, these rules make allowances for police officers, military personnel, and licensed security guards to carry firearms as necessary.  There are also some common-sense exceptions to allow for things like shooting competitions, hunting, target ranges, gun buy-back programs, licensed "concealed carry", etc.

Some of the exceptions are less intuitive, but still make sense.  For example, these rules do not apply inside your own residence, place of business or other property that you own or lawfully possess.  You may also transport an unloaded gun between any of those places.  "Residence" includes any temporary residence, such as a campsite or hotel room (you may possess loaded and concealed weapons while camping).  You may even carry a loaded / concealed gun at your office if you own the place or you have your boss's permission to do so.

PC 25400 does not apply while a person is fishing, but PC 25850 does.  Essentially, this means that you may carry a concealed weapon while fishing, but the gun must not be loaded in town.  If you are fishing outside of city limits, you may carry a loaded, concealed handgun.

As mentioned, this is a very oversimplified glance at some of the laws regarding possession of firearms in California.  The rules are complicated, but this should help give you a basic understanding of your rights and obligations as a gun owner in the Golden State.  If you or a loved one is accused of any crime involving firearms, call our office for a free consultation.  714 505 2468.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Hits Keep Coming for the FPD

The Orange County District Attorney announced this afternoon that it will pursue criminal charges against another Fullerton Police Officer.  This time, Officer Hugo Garcia, 32, is accused of theft and embezzlement, both felonies, related to the fraudulent sale of a vehicle.

According to the DA, Garcia borrowed $12,000 from a private lender in October of 2012, using his Chevy Tahoe as collateral.  The very next month, he sold the vehicle to an auto wholesaler for $12,000 cash, despite the fact that the lender still held a security interest in the car.

When Garcia stopped making payments on the loan, the lender repossessed the vehicle from a third party, who had purchased the car some time after it was sold by the wholesaler.  The wholesaler then compensated the third-party buyer for the purchase price of the Tahoe, resulting in a loss for the wholesaler.

That's Fullerton's finest.

Garcia is scheduled to be arraigned on March 14, 2014 at the North Justice Center in Fullerton.

What Kinds of Weapons Can I Legally Possess in California?

The laws regarding weapons in California are (like most of our laws), complicated, nuanced, counter-intuitive and not entirely rational.  We have specific rules to govern all sorts of weapons, including some you've probably never even heard of (what the hell is a "sandclub"?).

Today, I want to talk specifically about knives, clubs / batons, martial arts weapons, and a few other favorites.  I'll reserve firearms for another day because guns probably deserve their own post. 

For the sake of easily organizing and conceptualizing the different laws that work together to govern weapons in California, I've created my own handy 4-tier classification system.  This is an over-simplified glance at a few common weapons and the restrictions regarding their use.  Since I invented this chart, you won't find it in any law book.  Don't cite to this chart in court or when dealing with police.  Nobody will know what you're talking about if you argue that your folding knife is a "Class-4 pocket knife" and not a "Class-2 switchblade".  The chart is just a simplified way to wrap your head around a complicated and poorly organized series of laws.

My 4 tiers are as follows:

-Class 1:  Weapons that are illegal to own, possess, manufacture, import, sell, loan, give away, offer for sale, etc.  Put simply, these weapons are ILLEGAL in California for any purpose. Theoretically, you could be arrested just for having them in your own home for self-defense (subject to some exceptions).  
  • Any weapon that is disguised or not immediately recognizable as a weapon (any type of knife that is designed to look like an air gauge, lipstick case, writing pen, belt buckle, hair brush, etc.)
  • Any type of hardened knuckles (wooden, metal or composite / plastic)
  • Any type of billy club, blackjack, sap, sandbag, sandclub, sap or slungshot (this is not a typo. a "slungshot", also called a "monkey fist", is a weighted ball on a rope).  Courts have determined that "billy club" includes any type of bat, stick, club or baton if it's kept for use as a weapon, even for home defense.  Wait, that can't be right.  But it is.  Keeping a baseball bat under your bed as a weapon for home defense is arguably illegal in California.  That's right, a loaded shotgun under the bed = legal.  Baseball bat under the bed = illegal.  Of course, it would be virtually impossible for police to enforce this absurd law unless the bat were used to commit some sort of crime.  In the absence of some other criminal activity, courts would likely find that the 2nd Amendment's Right to Bear Arms trumps California's nonsensical rule against club-type weapons in the home for self-defense.  
  • Class 1 also includes "nunchaku" / "martial arts"-type weapons, with exceptions for martial arts schools and instructors.  

-Class 2:  Weapons that may be owned or possessed at home, but may not be carried in public or within the passenger area of any vehicle.  Class 2 weapons may be manufactured and / or imported into the state, but may not be sold, loaned, transferred or given away in California. Basically, you may own one, but that's all you're allowed to do with it.  
  • Switchblades and butterfly knives with blades longer than 2 inches fall within this class -- they may be owned and possessed at home, just not in public or in your car.  You may not sell them, loan them to a friend, give them away, or transfer them to any other person.  

-Class 3:  Weapons that may be carried openly upon the person or within the passenger area of a vehicle, but may not be concealed upon the person.  
  • Any dirk or dagger.  "Dirk" and "dagger" are both synonymous terms for stabbing weapons. This includes anything with a fixed blade, capable of being used to inflict death or serious injury by stabbing.  Folding knifes don't count, no matter how big they are, as long as the blade is not extended and locked into place while concealed.  If you've ever watched an episode of "Sons of Anarchy", you probably noticed Jax wearing a large Bowie knife on his belt.  Jax must have studied section 20200 of the California Penal Code, which reads, "A knife carried in a sheath that is worn openly suspended from the waist of the wearer is not concealed within the meaning of [this code]".  If you want to carry a fixed-blade knife, you must wear it openly on your belt, or else leave it in your car.  Do not wear a knife on a lanyard around your neck or concealed under your shirt.  Aside from being stupid, it's also illegal.  

-Class 4:  Weapons that may be carried and concealed upon the person, subject to some restrictions.  Generally, law-abiding adults may possess weapons in this category for self-defense. Felons, addicts, minors and people with certain misdemeanor convictions may be prohibited from carrying even class-4 weapons.  Class-4 weapons include:
  • Tear gas / pepper spray
  • Stun guns
  • Folding knifes, as long as the blade is not open and locked into place while concealed.

There are many possible defenses to weapons charges in California.  Often, illegal weapons are discovered by police during illegal searches of your property.  If a search is performed without your permission, without probable cause and without a warrant, there may be grounds to suppress anything discovered as a result of that search.  Only a qualified criminal defense attorney can tell you whether or not you might have a defense based on a violation of your right to privacy.  

Even if you are found to be in possession of an item that fits the legal description of a prohibited weapon, you might have a compelling argument that the item itself is not actually a "weapon".  If it's an antique, an heirloom, a movie prop or the possessor has some innocent explanation for the item, then the item might not be a "weapon" within the meaning of the law.  For example, a baseball bat could be used to play baseball or it could be used to break the knees of a rival bookie. If a person is found in possession of a baseball bat, a baseball glove, a bucket of baseballs and a pair of baseball cleats, then the bat itself is clearly a piece of sporting equipment and not a weapon. Of course, baseball bats may be used to legally play baseball in California.  On the other hand, if a person is found with a baseball bat behind the seat of his car, with no other sporting goods in the vehicle, he's going to be arrested on suspicion of carrying an illegal baton. 

If you or a loved one is accused of possessing an illegal weapon in California, call our office for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  

Thanks for reading.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why Privacy Rights Still Matter

Disclosures regarding the NSA's secret spying program have recently raised some debate in the United States over privacy rights and their limits.  How much government intrusion is too much and how should we balance the state's legitimate "need to know" against an individual's reasonable expectations of privacy?

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution assures our right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  Critics of the Fourth Amendment often claim that it only protects the guilty.  "If you aren't doing anything illegal, then what do you have to hide?", they ask.  There are lots of compelling responses to this stupid question, but perhaps the best defense of the Fourth Amendment was recently illustrated by the case of a New Mexico man named David Eckert.

Eckert was pulled over by police for failing to make a complete stop at a sign as he pulled out of a Walmart parking lot.  An officer noticed that Mr. Eckert appeared to be clenching his buttocks.  Clenched butt cheeks can only mean one thing, police reasoned: Eckert must be transporting marijuana inside his rectum (because that's where people keep it?).  This was the "probable cause" that cops cited in obtaining a warrant to perform a 14-hour-long series of invasive cavity searches on their suspect.  

Police transported Eckert to an area hospital for exams.  Doctors initially refused to perform the requested procedures, citing medical ethics.  Officers then took Eckert to the Gila Regional Medical Center, where other doctors apparently had no such ethical objections.  

First, doctors performed x-rays of Eckert's lower abdomen.  No contraband was located.  

Then, doctors probed Eckert's anus with their fingers.  No contraband was found.  

Then, just to be safe, doctors probed Eckert's anus again with their fingers.  Still no contraband.  

Next, Eckert was subjected to an involuntary enema.  He was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police.  Police searched his stool for signs of contraband, but none was found.  

After that, doctors forcibly inserted an enema into Mr. Eckert's anus a second time.  Again, he was made to defecate in front of the doctors and police.  Again, no contraband was found.  

Can you guess what happened after that?  If you guessed "Eckert was forcibly subjected to a third enema", you're right!  Still no contraband.  

Now, after spending the better part of their afternoon elbow-deep in Mr. Eckert's colon, lesser doctors might have reasonably concluded that their patient was not hiding any contraband, at least not inside his rectum.  But these guys didn't get to be doctors by quitting when the going got tough.  

Mr. Eckert was then subjected to another x-ray of his abdomen.  Still no contraband.  

Finally, Eckert was prepared for surgery and sedated.  Doctors performed an involuntary colonoscopy to inspect the lower portion of his digestive tract.  No contraband was ever located.  

Mr. Eckert's only crime was failing to make a complete stop at a sign.  Police, acting on no more than a hunch, were able to obtain a warrant from a judge, authorizing a series of highly invasive "medical procedures", supposedly justified by some serious risk to public safety (suspected possession of marijuana).  Just imagine how police might have treated Eckert if he were suspected of something that was actually dangerous.

Some people will say that these types of government intrusion are making us safer by reducing the risk of a terrorist attack.  I'd rather take my chances.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Plea for Restraint

Attorneys finished presenting their closing arguments in the Kelly Thomas murder trial this morning.  Manuel "Manny Man" Ramos and Jay Cicinelli are each charged in the beating death of the 135-pound homeless man in Fullerton.  Ramos is accused of murder and manslaughter.  Cicinelli is accused of manslaughter and using excessive force.

The fates of both defendants are now in the hands of the jury.  Deliberations are likely to take several days.

It's hard to believe that 2 1/2 years have elapsed since Kelly's death.  In that time, Kelly's Army has shaken the bases of power in Fullerton, California.  Sustained protests forced Fullerton's Chief of Police to resign, 3 city council members were recalled from office, a grand jury indicted 3 police officers for their roles in the beating, the public image of the FPD was irreparably tarnished as this scandal shed light on the culture of corruption within its ranks, and the District Attorney took the unprecedented action of filing murder charges against an on-duty cop.

As this story nears its culmination, I wanted to take a moment to urge Kelly's Army to exercise restraint, however the jury rules.  Of course, any rational human with a heart and half a brain is crossing his fingers for convictions.  Convictions are the only way to start the process of closure for the Thomas family and for all the citizens of Fullerton.  Guilty verdicts are going to be necessary first steps toward rebuilding our trust in the FPD, protecting our most vulnerable and ensuring that this type of official abuse never happens again.

If the jury votes to convict, I want to urge Kelly's Army to restrain their celebrations.  Guilty verdicts will be a fitting conclusion to this story.  They'll represent the justice that we've all been screaming for since the story broke.  But celebrations still don't feel appropriate.  Kelly is still gone and the damage is still done.  Please show respect for the Thomas family by curtailing inappropriate celebration if the jury votes to convict.

Similarly, if the jury votes to acquit, I want to urge Kelly's Army to direct their anger towards the ones who were responsible and not elsewhere.  Out-of-town instigators should stay home and smash their own windows.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Public Nudity & Indecent Exposure in California: Everything You Never Wanted to Know

The laws regarding public nudity and indecent exposure in California seem to generate a lot of confusion and misconceptions.  Something about nudity makes people very uncomfortable and stokes all kinds of legal myths.  Some of the questions that I hear most often are:

-I was cited for public urination.  Will I be charged with indecent exposure?
-I got caught engaging in some lewd conduct in the locker room at my gym.  Will I be required to register as a sex offender?
-Is it indecent exposure for a woman to expose her breasts in California?
-Is it "indecent exposure" to "moon" people in California?

I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify some of this confusion and to help you understand your rights when it comes to getting naked in public.

In California, PC 314 makes it a misdemeanor to willfully and lewdly expose your genitals in a public place or in the presence of another person who is likely to be annoyed or offended by the display.

The law sounds pretty straight-forward upon first glance.  As with most things in the legal world, though, it's more complicated than it appears.  Let's break down the elements of "indecent exposure" to determine what sort of behavior does or does not meet its statutory definition:

-"Willfully":  The prosecutor must prove that the defendant exposed himself on purpose and that he intended to direct public attention to his genitals.  If you forget to zip your fly and you can't figure out why people on the street are giving you funny looks, you haven't "willfully" exposed yourself and you're not guilty of the crime of indecent exposure.

-"Lewdly":  The prosecutor must prove that the defendant "intended by his conduct to direct public attention to his genitals", and that he "acted for purposes of sexual arousal, gratification, or affront".  Mere exposure is not enough to sustain a conviction unless the sexual motivation is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  For example, nude sunbathing at a nude beach, "mooning" traffic as a prank, or urinating between parked cars is not necessarily "lewd" unless the defendant acted with the intent to sexually gratify himself or others.

-"Expose":  As its name implies, the crime of "indecent exposure" requires that the person actually expose himself.  In the case of  People v. Massicot (2002) 97 Cal. App. 4th 920, a defendant was tried for violating PC 314.  He had allegedly lifted his robe to expose flesh-colored women's underwear and a lace bra that he was wearing.  The court found him "not guilty" because he had not actually exposed himself -- underwear isn't enough, even if it's lacy, women's underwear.

-"Genitals":  A conviction for PC 314 requires that the defendant actually exposed his or her genitals.  This does not include the buttocks or breasts.  That's right -- in California, displaying bare female breasts in public does not constitute indecent exposure.  As the court famously ruled in Robins v. Los Angeles County (1967) 248 Cal.App.2d 1, "Display of bare female bosom...does not violate state law, is not regulated by the state and does not constitute criminal sexual activity".  Groups such as and FEMEN have recently made headlines around the world for their efforts to protect the rights of women to appear topless in public.

-"In a public place, or in the presence of another person to be offended or annoyed":  This is one area where the law gets tricky.  It's sometimes difficult to determine whether or not a particular place qualifies as "public".  For example, if a defendant exposes himself to an undercover cop in a park bathroom during hours that the park is closed to the public, is he "in a public place"?  Does the undercover vice cop qualify as a "person who is likely to be offended or annoyed"?  What about standing in front of an open window and exposing yourself to passing pedestrians?  Remember, the law does not require that the defendant actually be in a public place.  He can be convicted of indecent exposure if he exposes himself anywhere to a person who is likely to be annoyed by his nudity, even if the "victim" doesn't actually see the defendant's genitals.

As mentioned above, indecent exposure is usually treated as a misdemeanor in California, but there are some exceptions.  It can be treated as a felony if the defendant exposes himself after entering an inhabited building without the consent of the owner (if you break into someone's house and expose yourself to the occupants).  Indecent exposure will also be treated as a felony if you have a prior conviction for indecent exposure or for committing lewd acts with a minor.

A conviction for indecent exposure in California carries a mandatory, lifetime registration as a sex offender.  Of course, this designation may prevent a person from holding various professional licenses and could earn you a spot on the Megan's Law website.

Potential defenses to indecent exposure charges may depend on the unique circumstances of your case and your criminal history.  A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can review the evidence to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the allegations against you.  Once we know what we're up against, we can work with you to ensure that you understand your options and that your rights are preserved throughout the process.  Even in cases where our clients have admitted that they exposed themselves to strangers in public, we have had success in negotiating pleas to reduced charges that do not carry mandatory sex offender registration.

If you or a loved one has any questions about the laws regarding public nudity or indecent exposure in California, call our office for a free consultation.

Thanks for reading.