For 12 years, Paul Gallegos prosecuted people for breaking the law. Now he advises them on how to be in the marijuana business lawfully.
The former Humboldt County district attorney is going green as an attorney that helps growers legitimize their cannabis business.
As the district attorney, Gallegos worked to enforce marijuana laws. He knows the rules, knows the harms and knows the problems. Living in this community, which is quite involved in cannabis, Gallegos knows many people want the protection of the law.
He now helps by teaching them the laws and regulations. “I want everybody to engage in lawful businesses and reap the benefits,” Gallegos said.
He gives legal advice to clients trying to cultivate, use and sell cannabis. He goes at it as if it were any other business. Regulators do not care if you are growing tomatoes or marijuana, as long as you are doing it properly. Gallegos said, “Rather than paint with a broad stroke we need to have a standard of conduct that is the same as every other business, which is merely abide by the law.”
When Gallegos first meets a client he provides the legal definitions for patients and primary caregivers. According to Health and Safety Code 11362.5 a “Patient” is defined as a person whose physician has recommended the use of marijuana to treat a serious illness…for which marijuana provides relief, and a “Primary Caregiver” is defined as a person who is designated by a qualified Patient and “has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety” of the patient.
The manufacturing, distribution or possession of marijuana is still a federal crime, and generally a crime under California law. However, there are two California laws that decriminalize the cultivation and possession of marijuana – the Compassionate Use Act and the Medical Marijuana Program Act.
The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, also known as Proposition 215, allows patients and primary caregivers to cultivate and possess marijuana for medical treatment. According to Health and Safety Code 11362.5, Prop 215 was enacted to “ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who has determined that the person’s health would benefit from the use of marijuana.” The act is also meant to ensure that patients and their primary caregivers are safe from criminal prosecution.
The Medical Marijuana Program Act, also known as Senate bill 420, expands on Prop 215 and set possession limits for cardholders. The act also allows primary caregivers and patients to grow medical marijuana collectively and cooperatively.
These laws only give protection when one is acting lawfully. They are not a guarantee, but rather a defense to use if one is confronted by the law.
“To have the protection of the law, you need to abide by the law,” Gallegos said.
To engage in business lawfully one must produce a product that is safe and insure employees, the environment and the consumer are safe.
“I think the marijuana industry has stumbled into giving itself a bad reputation because of irresponsible individuals,” Gallegos said. He is working to help change that by educating and helping growers work lawfully and safely.
Aside from being an attorney, Gallegos is a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy. The commission, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, researches and analyses issues related to the possibility of legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana.
Gallegos is involved in helping with the development of policy and a legislative framework for marijuana production, cultivation and consumption that works to protect the environment and public safety. He focuses on the possible impact the marijuana industry has on the environment and water.
Here in the North Region, there is a fair amount of marijuana cultivation. The thirsty plant requires a great amount of water and that water is typically diverted from streams and springs. These diversions lower the water deck and can have a profound impact on the environment and animal life. Other environmental impacts include: land terracing, clearing and road construction that causes erosion, and pollution from the use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and petroleum fuels. The paper that Gallegos presented at UCLA says data suggests if the marijuana market in California is appropriately regulated and taxed it could provide substantial funds for further research, to implement regulations and to improve current environmental conditions.
Gallegos noted that it is expensive to start a business in California – with startup costs and fees. “It is a rude awakening to people that their profit margin will decrease,” Gallegos said. “But it is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Those who engage in lawful business have an increased cost, but in turn benefit by the protection of the law, access to law enforcement and infrastructure made for the purpose of commerce. “With the law it is not only a sword, but a shield,” Gallegos said.
One problem Gallegos pointed out in the marijuana business is that while people understand the need for regulations in other businesses, they only think about the additional costs in their own business. “We often forget the freedom and the responsibility involved,” Gallegos said. “The flip side of the coin of freedom is responsibility.”
Business owners are responsible for following regulations and laws that in turn better our community and state. The mere act of business gives back to our state by providing jobs, circulating money and creating tax dollars.
Gallegos could not say exactly how many people he has helped to lawfully run a marijuana business. But he did say, “Not enough. The need to help people with their business practices is immense.”
“This is my state and my community,” Gallegos said. “I want to help us work through this issue to the extent that I am able to.”
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