At this point it seems like most everyone has an opinion on the legalization of marijuana in the United States. However, it is far less common to encounter someone who has truly dedicated themselves to the side they support. One such advocate is Thomas Lavigne, a Michigan-based marijuana defense attorney. He has focused his legal career on defending the cannabis plant and it’s wide range of industrial and medicinal uses.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Thomas about his career, his work with Cannabis Counsel PLC, and the challenges facing the cannabis industry. Here is what he had to say:
Can you tell us about what motivated you to join the fight for marijuana legalization and what lead to you joining Cannabis Counsel PLC?
I’m a human rights advocate and an environmentalist. I see cannabis rights at the intersection of both of those fields. I see the mass incarceration of African Americans here in Detroit and throughout our country, and know how racially motivated incarceration is throughout our country. Because of this issue, many millions of Americans have been imprisoned and are unable to find jobs because they have tarnished records.
I also see cannabis as a big environmental issue. We rely heavily on dangerous toxic chemicals in the manufacturing of plastics, cotton textiles, paper products and food. There are countless applications where hemp can be used instead: food, fiber, concrete (Hempcrete), super food (meat-like protein with an array of healthy omegas), packaging, auto parts, auto interiors and exteriors, paper, textiles…the list goes on. Hemp doesn’t require any of the polluting chemicals that are needed to grow cotton; it has natural retardants to pests, grows close together, requires less land, and grows in high-sun and high-temperature environments. Hemp can be used as a high-quality, environmentally-friendly alternative to these materials. Henry Ford even took a sledgehammer to one of his hemp-made auto bodies at an engineering convention in the early 1900s to demonstrate it’s excellent strength. He really wanted to move in that direction; once stating, “Why are we using natural resources that take millions of years to lie down, when we could be using the annual harvests of hemp.”
Is your work mostly with the hemp industry, or concerning the medical side of things?
Both. Given that the MMMA (Michigan Medical Marijuana Act) has passed, marijuana defense comprises a large portion of the work we do here at the Cannabis Counsel. We represent a wide range of adult users — and protect them from the large vested pharmaceutical interests who wish to ban the use of medical cannabis to protect their own products, and use the state to implement their collusion oligopolies and monopolies.
Who is your typical client?
Our clients are very diverse. We represent dying patients, patients suffering chronic and severe medical conditions, caregivers, product innovators, cultivators, producers, adult users with driving issues, child protective services cases, and pain patients who are kicked out of all pain doctors’ offices because they augment their treatment with medical cannabis to help with their appetite and sleep. One of our medical patients was growing the 12 plants granted to him by state law and happened to harvest over the legal limit by weight. He was arrested for producing above the arbitrary weight limit, as well as for owning a scale — which indicates intent to distribute. How could someone monitor that they are producing under the legal weight limit without owning a scale? Our clients come to us with a wide range of circumstances, and we have grown to accommodate their needs as best we can.
We also help engineers and innovators who want to use hemp for a variety of innovative products. Hemp is strong, it is biodegradable, it makes the perfect packaging material and requires no toxic chemicals or pesticides to make great products. Even our Declaration of Independence is written on hemp paper!
What do you see as the most critical issues facing the cannabis industry in the next five years?
On the state level, the issue we’re really working for is clarification on the legality of provisioning centers and distribution centers. Though promised this clarification, the state has fallen down on this task, and every piece of legislation since the original people’s initiated act has only worsened matters. We are working on bringing it back to the ballot in the near future, and doing it our way. The state’s delay in administering a medical marijuana law is the definitely the largest issue facing the cannabis industry.
We’ve amended 20 cities’ laws to allow for the term “adult use” under ordinance. Though the pursuit of ‘adult use’ cases has been disincentivized, as fees can no longer be collected on these charges, these adult users are still at risk under state legislature. Another major issue facing ‘adult use’ prosecution is civil forfeiture, which allows police to seize personal property (automobiles, homes, etc.) without ever convicting, or acquitting, an individual of a crime. In these cases, if the individual doesn’t pay the necessary fees within 20 days, the seized property will be auctioned off and the proceeds go towards police’ salaries, new cop cars, new equipment, etc.
I think that in the next five years, this issue will really take off. Right now, we need to put pressure on President Obama. He can push this issue unilaterally and the next president might fall down on the job. This issue reaches across the isle, as traditionally, Democrats have been more in favor of marijuana law, but now Republicans are seeing it from a federalist standpoint as a property rights and states’ rights issue with regards to privacy.
How do you feel about the medical, recreational, and decriminalization models for cannabis reform? What’s the best answer?
Adult use or “recreational use” is the only way to go. We’ve tried the medicinal approach, but patient’s privacy is simply not respected by the courts. Doctors have traditionally been the gatekeepers for medicine in our society, but suddenly their recommendations for medical marijuana are not being taken seriously by judges and prosecutors. The court system now practices medicine without a license everyday when they order patients to disregard his or her doctor’s medical advice and recommendations for treatment for their medical conditions. The courts and prosecutors force these patients to resume taking the highly addictive or harmful pharmaceutical pain killers, which is a much more profitable model than the broad-cure and holistic herbal approach offered by the miracle plant, Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, cannabis ruderalis and Cannabis Sativa L. 21 year old patients receive prescriptions for the mass-killer drug oxycontin everyday, but recommendations for medical cannabis are still very much questioned by judges, who continue to practice medicine without a license.
Thank you for sharing your work Thomas! To learn more about Thomas’ work with the Cannabis Counsel PLC, visit their website.