27 September 2011


I'm a proud member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Recently I received via email an invaluable summary of every citizen's rights and responsibilities, titled Know Your Rights ~ What To Do If You're Stopped by Police, Immigration Agents or the FBI. You may well ask, "What does this have to do with me? I don't break any laws." That may or may not be true.

Let's assume for a moment that you never speed in traffic, never drive with any alcohol in your bloodstream, never fudge on your taxes, never smoke marijuana, never change lanes without signaling. Know that every day, people are wrongfully arrested, wrongfully tried, wrongfully convicted and sentenced, even wrongfully executed for crimes they did not commit. This is not conspiracy thinking. It is reality in the American justice system. Ask any criminologist.

Now let's assume that perhaps you do edge over into the gray area of breaking the law from time to time. Nothing serious, no illegal addictive drugs or arms smuggling. You fail to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, or you're talking on your cell phone (shame on you!) while driving and don't notice that you're weaving within your lane, or you possess a legal state medical marijuana card but know that possession is still a federal offense. What is the appropriate response if you are pulled over, or if a law enforcement officer wants to search your person, your home, your car?

The ACLU's summary of your rights and responsibilities has the answers, broken down into these sections ~

~ if you are stopped for questioning

~ if you are stopped in your car

~ if you are questioned about your immigration status

~ if the police or immigration agents come to your home

~ if you are contacted by the FBI

~ if you are arrested

~ if you are taken into immigration custody

~ if you feel your rights have been violated

This is an important document, one worth saving to your computer, one worth memorizing, not only for your own possible use, but also in case you are a witness to police questioning or an arrest. I've nothing against law enforcement ~ I just know that like the rest of us mortals, no single law enforcement officer is perfect. Further, we live in times of uncertainty, when people who are otherwise tolerant and reasonable turn on each other, based on race, gender, age, nationality, religion, or ethnicity. During such times, government policy can change to reflect an overreactive need for control.

Here's an example. I am a gun owner, in accordance with my rights under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I also am registered as a Montana Medical Marijuana patient, a result of several medical conditions including chronic pain from a herniated lumbar disk and from arthritis. I learned yesterday in an announcement from the Montana Cannabis Industry Association that according to a memo from a federal agency, "it is illegal for people who are listed as medical marijuana patients to own a gun or ammo." It appears that the agency would like the arbitrary ruling to apply retroactively.

The multiple levels of irrationality are astonishing. Suspent a constitutional right simply for being legally in possession of a benign, healing substance? It would make more sense to restrict those who drink alcohol from owning guns ~ good luck getting that one passed. Further, there is no provision for restricting the constitutional rights of those who use powerful prescription medications which impair function far more than marijuana does. Further, there is no credible medical evidence that marijuana is an addictive substance. People like myself who went to the trouble and expense to procur a legal Montana Medical Marijuana card are law-abiding residents, with legitimate medical reasons for using marijuana for pain relief.

So since I operate within the system, and my name appears on the state registry of medical marijuana card holders, and since my name also appears on the state registry of those trained and licensed to carry a concealed weapon, can a federal agency simply compare state registries and arrest anyone who appears on both? In theory, yes they can. But their legal foundation is weak to non-existent, and they would face a groundswell of opposition from everyone from NORML to the NRA.

None of which would be of help to me if I were detained. The only realistic (and ridiculous) preventative recourse is for me to sell my gun, or else to suffer chronic pain without medical marijuana, neither of which is a reasonable or legal imposition by the federal government. Now you can see just one instance of how it is possible to be a perfectly legal citizen, and yet subject to the possibility of questioning or arrest. And now you can see how understanding one's rights and responsibilities as set forth in the ACLU summary is important for everyone.

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