California and Recreational Marijuana


Last November, citizens in California voted to legalize recreational marijuana, making the golden state the 5th state to officially legalize the drug.   California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis in 1996, and many think the legalization of recreational marijuana by California will cause other states to follow suit.  California is the most populous state and could potentially have the largest legal marijuana market ever.  The law will go into effect January 1st, 2018 and cities like LA and San Diego have hopefuls preparing to open up shops, but not without a host of issues that come along with new legislation.

With the largest marijuana market, comes a whole lot of red tape and laws and regulations that need to be followed in order to have a successful operation.  Including the fact that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.  California wants to cover all their bases in regards to regulating the entire process- from seed to plant to shop.  But, they are scrambling to make sure that all the procedures and paperwork are in place before the January 1st deadline.  California plans to streamline the regulations on the medical marijuana and recreational marijuana markets which means both adding onto existing regulations and creating new regulations to govern both markets the same way.  The rules for shop owners are simple enough: you need a license from the state, selling hours apply, proper security measures must be in place, and the shop needs to properly keep their records.  California is currently giving out temporary licenses.  The state wants prospective shop owners to apply for the licenses now in order to make sure that come January 1st, they can start approving them to get the ball rolling and start selling.  But, the proposed regulations haven’t been been approved yet and there’s less than 2 months to go.

The biggest challenge for California’s legal marijuana market may be the stiff competition that comes from the black market dealers.  California already has a well established black market for marijuana.  This means that the legal markets will have tough competition from low level street sellers and those who have already established a customer base.  Opening a shop will cost you; just applying for a license in Illinois is around $60,000.  This most likely means that the people selling on the black market, probably won’t be applying for a license to open a dispensary and will continue to sell the way they are.

It doesn’t help that California plans to implement a tax rate of up to 45% on recreational marijuana.  This will make the legal weed more expensive than the illegal stuff and business would be drawn away from the dispensaries.  According to LA daily news, a bag of marijuana that costs $35 could now cost anywhere from $50-$60 with taxes.  The growers will also be taxed at $44 a pound for what they sell.  The state also has to worry about keeping up with supply and demand.  Marijuana will be a hot commodity once the markets open and this means that the state has to make sure that enough legal marijuana will be available to those who want to purchase it. But, they can’t start selling until the regulations are in place and licenses are issued, which means California won’t make any money until then.  A shortage of legal marijuana, like the one Nevada experienced this summer, could allow the illegal market to flourish once again.

But with the legalization comes other issues like public smoking and keeping people from driving under the influence.  California says that they plan on doing testing to find out the legal limit for marijuana use and driving impairment as well as protocols for testing the blood of drivers that are suspected of driving while high.  Marijuana will be treated in a similar way to alcohol; drivers can still carry marijuana in their car as long as the bag is sealed and the amount is under weight restrictions. Smoking in public will carry a $100 fine and is not allowed within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds or within 250 feet of an entrance (Mercury News).

Even with all the complications the legalization is set to bring up to $50 million in tax revenue for Los Angeles alone and $658 million across the state in the first year.  It’s no wonder that Illinois wants to solve the current debt struggle the same way.   California has long been a pioneer for marijuana reform.  Which, could mean that within the next few years we could see many states follow in the same footsteps and legalize recreational marijuana.  Illinois lawmakers plan on bringing recreational marijuana to a vote in congress in 2018.  Here at Lauralaw, we will stay up to date on any current marijuana law passages so make sure to stay tuned to our blog.


Changing the Way We Handle DNA Analysis

dnaDNA has becomes an essential part of many court cases since the introduction of DNA evidence during the 1980’s.  DNA evidence is used to exonerate those wrongfully imprisoned and to convict those who’s DNA was present at a crime scene; it’s considered an extremely reliable source in courtrooms across the country.  The presence, or lack thereof, can determine a person’s fate in the criminal justice system.  And now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) wants to make sure that DNA is being used properly during testing and aims to create a standard for DNA analysis.

In the first study of its kind, the NIST will analyze the same set of complex DNA samples across different labs throughout the United States and will compare the results.  Labs across the country use different types of computerized software programs to examine and analyze DNA in order to get a profile of a suspect.  This profile that is created can then be compared to the DNA of a defendant in a court proceeding and can be used to determine if it the defendant was present during the commission of a crime.  One of the issues here is that different computer programs may present different results when given the same sample to work with.  This raises many red flags and calls for the development of a standard in order to prevent innocent people from going to prison because of lab result differentiations.  Just last year in New York, two different software programs that were analyzing the exact same sample, yielded different results.  If there is no standard for testing DNA, this brings up a major point- those two different results could potentially be life or death for a defendant.

Two controversial methods created by the DNA laboratory in the office of New York City’s chief medical examiner are being questioned here.  The first is “touch DNA” testing.  This is where small trace amounts of DNA are analyzed – so small that the sample may be as little as a trillionth of a gram and is much less than the FBI’s recommended standard for DNA testing.  But, this test doesn’t take into account the fact that trace DNA can be transferred with something as simple as a handshake.  The presence of small amount of DNA being used to determine guilt has a lot of issues. DNA is very sensitive and easily transferable and a much larger amount of DNA would be required in order to complete testing.  One of the NIST’s goals is to determine a standard amount of DNA that can be used for testing.

The other method is probabilistic genotyping.  This is when “software calculates the likelihood that a suspect’s genetic material is present in a complicated mixture of several people’s DNA,” (NIST).  The fact that complex mixtures involving multiple samples of DNA are being tested also raises red flags.  The accuracy cannot be guaranteed.  There are too many variables present in order to ensure that the results are fool proof, and in criminal court cases you want the results need to be as accurate as possible.  There also isn’t a uniform standard for how the DNA results are presented once the testing is complete. Which is what caused the two software programs in New York to present different results.

The NIST hopes to create a standard for testing on complex DNA samples and hopes to look at the use of trace DNA.  The testing and results should be completed by next summer.  The labs have stopped using the controversial forms of testing, but many defense attorneys whose clients were convicted off of this testing want the evidence to be revisited.  This could potentially cause a lot more problems going forward.

Here at Lauralaw, we will update you on any news regarding DNA testing and other important law passages.  Feel free to contact us and one of our attorneys will be happy to assist you.


Parking Tickets Beware…

By: Timothy Black


20171005_163434Not all heroes wear capes.  Some wear a shirt and tie, and an Illinois law license.  Local hero-attorney Todd Kooperman is one of my favorite Chicagoans.  In a mission after my own heart, Mr. Kooperman is taking on the system.  He’s fighting the man.  He’s squaring up against the establishment.  He’s suing the parking ticket industrial complex.  As a frequent (getter and) fighter of parking tickets, I am well aware of the frustration that comes wrapped in a bright orange envelope from the City’s Streets & Sanitation Department.  There is little that is more annoying than leaving your house, approaching your car, and being greeted by the pompous little parking ticket perched on your windshield.  I love to fight parking tickets.  I fight every single parking ticket I get.  Laura thinks (read: knows) it’s a waste of time – and we all know time is money – but, “they aren’t going to get away with this!” I say, as I drive down to 400 W. Superior St. to inevitably lose my dubiously-founded challenge.  Parking tickets – ugh.

But I’m not alone in my disdain for the ol’ parking ticket.  No – this fight has a new standard-bearer.  Todd Kooperman has not only taken up the flag of fighting against parking tickets, he’s started GoFundMe campaign and hired Chicago civil rights attorney Mark Weinberg to challenge the ordinance that gives authority to the City of Chicago to write parking tickets.  Specifically, he is alleging that the vague nature of the ordinance violates your rights because it does not mandate a timetable for advanced notice before handing out parking tickets to vehicles violating a temporary parking ban.  Street cleaning parking tickets are the most common example.  Mr. Kooperman argues that the ordinance should require a set amount of warning before the City can legally start firing up their trusty parking ticket machines.  I agree.

Mr. Kooperman may only be 50% of the way to his GoFundMe goal of $1,500, but he’s 100% of the way into my heart.  Keep fighting the good fight, Mr. Kooperman.  Do not rest until you have conquered the parking ticket conglomerate that is the City of Chicago.  God Speed.

Can you be Fired for Using Medical Marijuana?

medical cannabisA recent article published by CBS Chicago involved an Illinois man who was refused employment because he tested positive for marijuana, even though he had a valid medical marijuana license and a prescription from his doctor.  This article highlights an important issue associated with medical marijuana can an employer choose not to hire and/or fire those who test positive for marijuana, even if it’s used medically?

The simple answer to the questions is yes they can… in Illinois. This creates major issues because a person can be legally terminated for doing something that is completely legal and their right to do.  Medical Marijuana has been legal in Illinois since 2014 with the implementation of the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.  This makes it legal for citizens with qualifying illnesses to obtain prescriptions and legally smoke the drug.  The reason some employers won’t hire those who test positive is because employers typically follow the federal rules and regulations on the drug.  And at the federal level marijuana is still a schedule I drug, meaning it is considered to have no medical value and is illegal.  Some employers are fearful of the possible risks to their businesses, so they choose not to hire persons who test positive for marijuana.  In Illinois this is perfectly acceptable and is even specified in the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program; employers can have zero-tolerance policies on drugs and are allowed to enforce them regardless if the marijuana is used legally.  This essentially gives a person two choices: their medicine or their job.  People who are given a medical marijuana license are often in extreme pain, and choosing between the two may prove to be difficult, if not impossible.

Those who’ve tried to take this to court have failed in every attempt except one. The original attempt came from Brandon Coats who was terminated from his job at DISH Network after testing positive for marijuana.  Coats was quadriplegic and used marijuana to stop his seizures.  The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Colorado where it was decided that the termination was legal.  The courts have continually ruled this same way and stated that employers have the option to choose with medical marijuana patients.  That is until this past July, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court sided with a woman fired in 2014 after testing positive for marijuana while having a medical cannabis license.  According to Chief Justice Ralph Gants it’s a ‘“reasonable accommodation’ to make exceptions to a company’s drug policy if an employee is using something a doctor has medically approved for treatment.”  This is the first time that a court has said that companies do not have the right to discriminate against someone for using medical marijuana.  This essentially compares marijuana to the likes of other prescription medications that companies cannot discriminate against an employee for using.  This is a landmark case and could potentially impact the way many other cases across the country are handled.

Unlike Illinois, a few other states where medical marijuana is legal actually do have laws in place that prohibit an employer from discriminating against a person because they use medical marijuana.  Out of the 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana, only a handful have these protections put in place.  But this is the exception and not the usual.  Illinois does not currently have any plans to change the laws.

Until federal and State laws catch up to one another and get on the same page issues like marijuana will continue to be complicated.   We will stay up to date on any new marijuana legislation news so stay tuned to our blog.

E-Mail Service – What’s Next, Flying Cars?

By: Timothy Black

FaxsimileGather ’round, children; I’d like to tell you about a little thing called the fax machine.  You see, back when I was a kid, we didn’t have your fancy Gmails and Outlooks – nope – if you wanted to send a letter to someone immediately, you had to find a fax machine.  There was no such thing as e-mail service.  Fax was a lot like a scanner, but instead of sending the file to my computer, it sent the file to somebody else’s fax machine, and that fax machine printed it out.  In fact, we still have a fax machine at LauraLaw, so if you want to see one in action, come on by.  But I must warn you, if you’re expecting to see us serve a document via fax, you’ve come to wrong place.  You see, starting July 1 of this year, the Illinois Supreme Court amended their rules of service so that service via e-mail is preferred and service via fax is disallowed.

Email_bdtbtIllinois Supreme Court Rule 11 was amended on June 22 and took affect on July 1.  The amendment requires e-mail service of documents where possible.  If for some reason it’s not possible to complete e-mail service – if the person receiving service doesn’t have an e-mail address, if some other rule requires service by other means, or if e-mail servers are down – the rule allows service by only 4 alternative means.  Those alternative methods of service are (1) Personal service, where the documents are hand-delivered to the recipient; (2) Delivery to Attorney’s Office or Self-Represented Party’s Residence; (3) United States Mail; or, (4) Third-Party Commercial Carrier, such as FedEx or UPS.  Removed from the list of acceptable alternative methods of service was “Facsimile Transmission,” or fax.

computer-2105121_960_720Illinois Courts are moving into the digital age at the speed of dial-up internet, and this is one step closer to their goal of a paperless court system.  In the vain of electronic filing, e-mail service will help bring the Courts current with the technology that is available, which will (in theory) help the Courts move more swiftly and more efficiently.

We here are LauraLaw are certainly ready for e-mail service.  Laura‘s got her inbox humming, and my inbox is always ready for the next e-mail.  So if you have a legal issue that needs our experience and dedication, give us a call, shoot us an e-mail, or send us a fax and we’ll do our best to help you work toward the resolution that’s best for you.  Until then, if you want to see a real live fax machine, Maddy will be happy to show you how ours works.

Is Marijuana the Answer to Illinois’ Debt Crisis?

With Illinois currently facing a budget crisis in the amount of $12.8 billion dollars, two lawmakers from Chicago think that marijuana could be the answer to the problem.  Senator Heather Steans and Representative Kelly Cassidy have proposed dual bills in the Senate and the House that lay the groundwork for the legalization of marijuana in Illinois and suggest that the revenue be used to dig away at the deficit.

mjMarijuana has been a long discussed and hot topic in the news recently; the road to recreational legalization is a long and winding one with many hoops to jump through and ladders to climb.  Here at Lauralaw we’ve followed the topic of marijuana for many years, from the recent decriminalization to a possible crackdown at the federal level and everything in between.  Now, with the proposal of these two bills, Illinois is trying to follow in the footsteps of Nevada and Washington and attempting to legalize recreational marijuana.  This past June legislators in Illinois proposed two bills that would legalize marijuana.  The bills piggyback off of a March bill proposed by Cassidy that creates a foundation for the legalization.  The original bill proposed in March suggests that there be a $50 per ounce tax on the drug at the wholesale level and that any purchase would be subject to the current Illinois tax rate.  The March bill also puts rules in place regarding the amount of marijuana a person can possess and grow at home.  Along with this, comes regulations for packaging the drug and the distribution by dispensaries.  Although the bill proposed in June may differ from the March bill, the lawmakers want their bill to have a similar structure so to appeal to the majority of those voting for it.

Currently in Illinois, marijuana is decriminalized and legal for medicinal purposes, with a few dispensaries located around the Chicagoland area.  The legalization of medicinal marijuana was started in 2015 with the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program (click here to view that blog post).  The decriminalization happened soon after, making it a $100-$200 ticket to carry anything less than 10 grams.  Now, following along with the natural progression of things, Illinois lawmakers are keeping up with the times and want it completely legalized.  There are currently 8 states that allow for the recreational use of marijuana, with Nevada being the most recent state to adopt these laws.  But, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and if lawmakers at this level so choose they can enforce these laws. 

There are still many challenges that these two lawmakers face to get the bills to pass and it may be tougher than most people think.  Many polls show that a majority of people are in favor of legalization of marijuana.  The hard part is getting those in the legislator to vote this way.  Governor Rauner recently blocked bills using his veto power that were designed to expand the use of medical marijuana.  Legalizing marijuana in Illinois may prove a challenge if the right structures aren’t laid in place by the bills.  But, the two lawmakers from Chicago are holding hearings and listening to other senators from states where marijuana legalization has passed and hope that the bills will pass in Illinois as well.  Considering the huge debt that Illinois currently faces, this may be the only hope.

The bill goes for vote in January once the legislature is back in session.  We’ll keep you posted on anymore marijuana updates and other current law passages as well.

Trial Preparation – Every Last Detail

By: Timothy Black

The best trial lawyers excel in trial preparation – every last detail.  We work very hard to ensure that we know every single fact of the case – every date, every person, and every place – so we can represent our clients in the best way possible.  We coordinate our witness list, who sits at counsel’s table, and where Laura’s lucky turtle is placed.  As trial lawyers, and especially as jury trial lawyers, it is extremely important that we control the way the jury hears our client’s story and the way the jury processes our client’s defense.  A vital part of that, and a part that deserves as much attention as our understanding of the facts of the case, is the outfit our client wears to court.  As one Ohio woman learned, the defendant’s appearance can often times be the one factor that sways a jury from NOT GUILTY to GUILTY, or the other way around.

30B4657600000578-3422981-image-a-59_1454091712047Early in 2016, an Ohio model named Tara Lambert was tried for allegedly hiring the services of a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy posing as a hit man.  She was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 7 years in the penitentiary.  The conviction was overturned by the appellate court in June of this year, and she will be retried; this time with the assistance of new counsel.  As that new counsel (and Ms. Lambert) begin trial preparation – every last detail will be evaluated.  Most notably, as reported by Inside Edition, will be the defendant’s outfits at trial.  For her first trial, Ms. Lambert’s courtroom attire was often the star of the show, and in the defense’s opinion, often eclipsed the evidence and the arguments in its importance.  Whether it was her designer suits, oversized diamond, or stiletto heels, Ms. Lambert came to court every day dressed for the camera.  But that backfired.  As Ms. Lambert put it, the jurors “were worried about my wardrobe rather than what was really going on.”  As her new attorney says, “Juries pick up on things and when you are in a court of law you are not at a discotheque.”  He went on to say that “sometimes people focus on the wrong details and when they are confronted with those details day after day after day, sometimes what matters gets lost.”  His sentiments prove the importance of trial preparation – every last detail.

While it may seem absurd that a juror would place so much weight on something as trivial as the defendant’s outfit, we see things like this all the time.  Jurors (and Judges, for that matter) are paying attention to everything, which is why we place such an emphasis on trial preparation – every last detail.  You don’t always know what will turn a juror off.  Sometimes it’s the defendant’s media persona, sometimes it’s the defendant’s clothes, and sometimes it’s the defendant’s defense.  The unpredictability is what prompts us to pay such close attention to trial preparation – every last detail.  When it comes to your courtroom fashion, use your common sense.  Don’t show up to your drug case with a graphic tee about marijuana, don’t show up to your preliminary hearing looking like you’re coming from the gym, and don’t show up to trial in stilettos and a designer suit.  Come dressed modestly, but respectfully.  Don’t give dirty looks to the opposing party or the hostile witness, don’t stare down jurors or get angry under your breath, and don’t give the jury any reason to dislike you.  Leave the rest of the trial preparation – every last detail – to us.

9/11 – Coming Together in the Face of Tragedy

By:  Timothy Black


The resilience of the “American Spirit” is awesome.  It’s awesome in the colloquial sense – in that it’s really cool that we, as a giant diverse group of people, never seem to quit on each other; and it’s awesome in the literal sense – in that it’s awe-inspiring to see people’s altruistic nature rise to the top when times are toughest.  Never am I more cognizant of this “American Spirit” than on September 11th.  Each year, as the calendar reminds us of the terror attacks that tore down the World Trade Center, we reflect on that tragedy, but celebrate the spirit of the first responders, New Yorkers, and Americans alike in refusing to let a weaponized airliner kill the “American Spirit.”

Harvey_aftermath_Boat_Evacuation_(36117500773)Although it always seems like it takes a national tragedy like 9/11 to remind us to recognize and celebrate that “American Spirit,” the desire and willingness to help our neighbor is always there.  It’s fitting that we reflect on that “American Spirit” today – in the wake (or midst) of two national tragedies that have again ignited our collective desire to help each other.

The way our nation came together to help all of the flooding victims left behind when Hurricane Harvey finally moved past the Houston area is inspiring.  Whether it’s the $30+ million dollars J.J. Watt helped raise, or the pet adoption centers nationwide that have helped alleviate the need for shelter space to house displaced pets, the country has come together to do what is needed to help Houstonians get back to a semblance of normalcy as soon as possible.

170905-A-YG824-001Then, just when the Houston recovery efforts started to hit their stride, Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the Caribbean and Florida coast.  Already, mere hours after the winds began to die down and the rain started to subside, people are already coming to the aid of our Floridian brothers and sisters.  And it’s beautiful.

While our politics divide us, and our football rivalries ignite the inner-fire, it’s important to remember that when it matters – when it really matters – political affiliation and jersey color mean nothing.  In the end, we are all neighbors.  We are brothers, sisters, family, and friends.  For all of our differences, we are the same.  We all share that innate need to be there for each other.  We say “never forget” when we celebrate the memory of the victims of the 9/11 Terror Attacks.  We must never forget the victims.  We must never forget the first responders, and we must never forget the “American Spirit” that came out in spades when we were attacked.  And we continue to pay homage to those victims and that “American Spirit” with each national tragedy, to be sure, but also with each and every time we come to the aid of one of our neighbors.  I hope we all go out today and never forget.


Chicago being sued for mishandling Cellphone Ticket proceedings

The Chicago Tribune’s John Byrne detailed a case yesterday morning in which the city of Chicago is being sued by the same law firm that recently won a huge settlement in a suit over the cities mishandling of red light and speeding camera tickets. This time the firm, Myron M. Cherry & Associates, will be suing on behalf of drivers given cellphone tickets since the start of 2010. According to Byrne’s the suit “alleges the city took the cases to municipal administrative court for years in a bid to keep all the fines rather than share the money with county and state authorities.” According to the firm the cases were supposed to be taken to the state traffic courts instead where the proceeds from the fines would’ve been divided up. The motive for this according to the plaintiffs is clear as the suit contends that the city “purposefully circumvented the Illinois statutory scheme for prose cutting alleged distracted driving offenses and reporting offenders. Rather than send alleged ordinance violators to state traffic court, the city misrouted allegedly distracted drivers to the city’s private administrative justice system. The reason was simple: money.” Their basis for beginning the complaints at the start of 2010 is that there was a law passed requiring distracted driving citations to go to state traffic court that took effect that year. The article took a quote from Jacie Zolna, one of the attorneys filing the suit, stating “It’s another case of the city viewing municipal ordinance violations as a personal piggy bank. I think people are getting sick of it.” Zolna’s red light and speeding camera tickets suit last month won $38.75 million from the city council, and the forgiveness of 12 million dollars in unpaid tickets as part of the  settlement. The suit will be seeking a similar refunding of all cellphone tickets since the start of 2010.

Bank Robbery suspect apologetic

The Chicago Tribune detailed a pretty weird story last week, of a Harwood Heights attempted bank robbery. The suspect being held in custody, Andrew Johnston, reportedly demanded $2,500-3,500 dollars from the bank tellers stating that he was robbing the place wearing a black mask and holding a phone to his face. He told them apparently that a family member had been kidnapped and a family member was dealing with gambling issues. He also reportedly was not carrying any gun. According to the article a customer in the drive through lane was alerted by one of the terrified tellers. “The teller stated that she was “really scared” and put her hands up, telling investigators that the suspect mumbled so fast at times she couldn’t understand his words, according to the complaint. She told investigators that she looked out the drive-up window and saw a customer holding up his phone, motioning to the teller as to whether she needed him to call the police, the complaint said. The teller stated that when she nodded “yes” toward the customer, Johnston appeared to notice and left the bank without taking money, according to the complaint.” The police were able to catch the fleeing suspect with a detailed witness description of what he looked like and what car he was driving in.

The stranger part of the story comes after the arrest where the suspect Johnston seemed to feel genuine remorse for what he had done, after hearing how traumatized one of the bank tellers was. According to Harwood Heights deputy chief John DeVries, “So after I showed him to the tellers, the one teller was really emotionally upset, very hysterical about what was going on. I walked him back to my squad car and I said, ‘Did you see the face of that young girl who works here for probably $10 an hour, how shook up she was?’ He asked me if I could please walk him back to the window so he could apologize, sincerely, to this woman for what he did to her,” DeVries said. “And he did — he was very sincere about it. It’s in my report, and when the federal agents came I made sure that was noted because I found that was impressive on my part as a policeman. So kudos to him.” The apology was very unusual according to DeVries, saying he had never seen something like it in over 30 years of investigative work in the town.

Lets be happy that no one was physically hurt though obviously our best goes out to the traumatized bank tellers who had to face the possibility of robbery and danger to their persons. Knowing the mental damage the suspect caused, it’s also good though that he seemed genuinely remorseful for it and I hope he can get his life on track and not put himself and others in these types of situations again. The article didn’t mention whether his story about the gambling or kidnapping were confirmed or found to be fabricated.