Promise of advice on skirting the law draws crowd to marijuana session

I By Nick Busse

i smell marijuana,” Jennifer Speas said as she walked into the packed classroom on Ackerman Hall’s third floor Monday night.

She was right. And other suspicious signs abounded.

Participants in the meeting that was about to begin were showing up inordinately late. And on a table at the side of the room stood an impressive spread of powdered doughnuts, soft-baked cookies and sodas – all of which were soon to be ravaged.

But these things were to be expected, for the 90 or so participants who showed up for the meeting had come for one purpose: to learn how to avoid getting busted for smoking pot.

Speas and Thomas Gallagher, both Minneapolis defense lawyers who routinely deal with narcotics and DWI cases, had been recruited by the University chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws to give a speech on Fourth Amendment rights.

Though advertised as “How to smoke pot without getting busted,” organizers explained it was a “know your rights workshop.” It wound up being a little bit of both.

“I know we’ve been advertising this event as a tutorial for skirting the law, but Ö there’s more to it than that,” said Gregory Scott, a NORML activist. “I don’t want this to turn into Cheech and Chong Ö we want this to be a political teach-in.

“Given the current political climate in the nation, it’s more important now than ever for citizens to have a firm grasp on their civil liberties,” he said.

Speas gave a brief explanation of the Fourth Amendment – which prohibits law enforcement officers from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures – and then discussed some scenarios.

“An officer must have probable cause to search you,” Speas said. “If the officer asks (to search you or your car), it probably means he or she can’t.”

“Never give consent,” Gallagher said. “If they ask, don’t give it.”

After a short segment in which students were invited to talk about their personal experiences, Gallagher, Scott and an audience member attempted to coach the audience on how to deal with police stops by acting out a series of skits and inserting commentary at crucial moments.

The question-and-answer session that followed lasted well past the scheduled time limit as enthusiastic and inquisitive students grilled the lawyers on many possible scenarios including traffic stops and protests.

The discussion gradually moved from the subject of legality to finessing the cops.

“You want to curb your snotty attitude,” Scott said.

“Stand up for your rights, but do it in a very smart way,” Gallagher said. “Drug laws are corrupting the government Ö they’re being paid to take away your civil rights.”

Nick Busse welcomes comments at [email protected]