Defense attorney talks pot and politics

Michael Rooney

Defense attorney Michael Rooney has been practicing law in Northern California since moving here from Nevada in 1997. Before practicing in Chico, Rooney was the chief public defender in Amador County, as well as being assigned to the Mono-Inyo drug task force. According to his website, Rooney has won more 95 percent of his criminal cases, including many related to Proposition 215. He describes the marijuana issue as being in a “state of quagmire.” This is mainly because of the nebulous concepts used by collectives and growers, he states, but can be fixed by sound legal advice.

Do you think District Attorney Mike Ramsey’s strict and narrow interpretation of Prop 215 has helped or hindered Butte County?

The law was written with the intention of being slightly ambiguous. The Second Amendment states that we have the right to bear arms, but does that give someone the right to buy six nuclear missiles? The same concept can apply to Prop. 215. At least he has written guidelines that he has been open about and consistent with to his constituents, and I think that could be positive.

Your website states that, “staying within the grow limits and other local guidelines is not always sufficient protection from arrest on felony charges.” Why is that?

Despite the state laws and local guidelines, it can still be against the law [federally]. Some people think that if a doctor prescribes X amount of cannabis, it may be construed as legal. That’s where people can get in trouble.

What would you see as a better solution: legalization or decriminalization?

Legalization has the benefit of helping stimulate the economy. I believe taking the monetary incentive out will help reduce the violence surrounding the issue.

Would you say that this is a difficult county to live in as a medical-marijuana patient?

No, there are guidelines for them to follow. As for growers, Butte County, along with other local counties, are more than happy to do compliance checks with law enforcement officials and defense attorneys to help ensure they are following the guidelines.

What is the greatest challenge when presenting Prop. 215 cases in a federal court?

The draconian law itself and mandatory minimum sentences. It can be very easy for someone to be sentenced for 10 years for a crime the state of California would only sentence for three years. That’s a big difference that can be tough to negotiate.