If you’ve ever thought about smoking weed in public for the first time, now’s your chance. You might be arrested for possession, but at least you’ll have free legal representation.
Attorney Casey J. Cole is offering to represent 420 first-time offenders for free in Tarrant County, just his way of saying the state’s current marijuana laws are draconian.
“I have been helping these kids for so many years, and I got to the point to where I wanted to say, the state is getting it wrong,” Cole said. “It’s time to help the kids. There is a lot of weed out there. The kids get it, the cops get them, and it turns into a big deal.”
For you un-hip folk, “420” is code for smoking pot.
Someone who gets arrested for a personal stash of marijuana can look forward to jail, bond, and possibly forking over thousands of dollars in fines and fees. Some must attend diversionary programs.
“It’s too much,” Cole said.
Possession of fewer than two ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, with punishment ranging from up to 180 days in jail to a $2,000 fine. A conviction can stay on a person’s permanent record and can also result in a suspended driver’s license and the possibility of community supervision or probation. Cole estimates that fighting a pot possession case and keeping it off your record can cost between $3,500 to $5,000 in attorney fees and court costs.
Some counties are more proactive and harsh than others about seeking convictions and enforcing penalties, Cole said. Tarrant County is one of the better counties when it comes to offering diversionary programs for offenders that can sometimes result in a conviction being expunged from records.
“Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson has put diversion programs in place that will greatly assist first-time offenders with their marijuana case,” Cole said.
Tarrant County’s pretrial diversion program for first-time offenders under the age of 21 provides them with an opportunity to have their Class B marijuana cases dismissed. Some counties, however, might throw the book at even first-time offenders with small amounts of pot.
“I believe that the laws in Texas need to be changed, but until that happens, I am going to do my part to assist those arrested in Tarrant County for marijuana possession,” Cole said.
Other lawyers have offered free representation to pot smokers in the past. USA Today wrote a story in 2014 about a Delaware lawyer who gave free counsel to pot smokers. The lawyer, Thomas Donovan, said he offered his services because he thought pot laws were costly, failing, and racially biased.
Cole, who has 23 years of criminal defense experience, said he typically charges $1,500 to represent clients in possession cases. Providing free representation for 420 clients means he’ll be foregoing $630,000 in fees.
Cole, who has two sons, ages 18 and 22, said many of the pot cases he’s seen involve young smokers who don’t have the option to buy booze.
“The kids are like, ‘It’s easier to get weed than alcohol because you have to be 21 to get alcohol,’ ” he said. “So weed is pretty prevalent.”
Last week, Cole created a website for potential clients to register for free representation: 420-colelaw.com. So far, only a handful of people have signed up.
Cole also says he’ll work for half price for anyone who is not a first-time offender in a marijuana case.