This article appears in Volume 3 – Issue 2 of SKUNK Magazine.
“I see your hair is burnin,
Hills are filled with fire.
If they say I never loved you,
You know they are a liar’.”
ALLISON BRANDI MARGOLIN isn’t your average Southern California attorney. Nor is she your average pothead. She’s also not your average alluring Beverly Hills shopoholic hottie. Nor is she your average Harvard Law School graduate. If you’re getting the impression that not much about Margolin is average, you’re spot on, Spanky.
Margolin grew up in Los Angeles, the daughter of two successful attorneys. Her father, Bruce Margolin, is Director of the Los Angeles chapter of NORML and once successfully defended ‘60s drug guru Timothy Leary. Elyse Margolin, Allison’s mother, has invested more than 28 years in a respectable Beverly Hills law firm. Margolin comes upon her moniker of L.A.’s Dopest Attorney honestly; she has both law and pot in her blood.
But don’t let this 29-year-old’s spicy looks and feisty charisma fool you. Columbia and Harvard took the already astute intellect she inherited from her parents and further refined it. Despite her Valley Girl vernacular, Margolin passed the California bar exam on her first try. “If it’s going to stimulate me intellectually, I do it,” she told me during a phone interview from her Beverly Hills office after a busy day of court appearances. She described herself as enjoying “healthy ways of being provocative.”
“It’s so easy to be provocative in the lawyer universe. I don’t have to do much: I put out an ad with me and a dog in a short sleeve shirt and people go crazy. It’s so fun when the universe is so uniform.”
Med Pot Focused Career
Margolin carries a California doctor’s medical recommendation, but doesn’t disclose the minor condition for which she got it. Her caseload represents a large portion of medical defense cases under California’s Compassionate Use Act (passed, incidentally, when she was only nineteen).
Driven, strong-willed, passionate, and tenacity are personal characteristics for which Margolin redefines the playing field. She’s most irritated, however, by the fact that so many cops and legal peers don’t understand the efficacy of medical cannabis. “It’s a defense for people, but a lot of these DAs think it’s bullshit,” Margolin told me. “I’m like ‘fuck you!’ Should they be on Vicodin or Xanax instead? It’s ridiculous.”
In Margolin’s opinion, doctors in California, brave enough to officially recommend marijuana to their patients, receive unfair treatment by her legal peers. “They criticize the marijuana doctors. But a lot of these doctors who write marijuana recommendations for $200 end up making six court appearances for somebody for free.”
Another hot button of Margolin’s — and an area where she has considerable expertise — is the ignorance displayed by police officers in Southern California. She said they frequently make illegal busts, often never filing charges, but typically confiscating a patient’s med pot. “The law is completely disrespected and not enforced,” she said incredulously.
“Most officers haven’t had any training on medical marijuana,” Margolin explained, adding, “I don’t think I’ve cross-examined one police officer who’s had any training on medical marijuana grows or anything.” This might be understandable if California’s Compassionate Use Act was passed last year, but it’s been in effect for a decade. “It’s insane. It would be really shocking for you to come to court and see it,” she said.
Her Dopest Case
As L.A.’s Dopest Attorney, Margolin has encountered some interesting cases. Her drive and refusal to be stereotyped have helped her win and bring attention to the cause of medical patients throughout Southern California.
She said her best case was one that went to jury trial involving a backyard grow in Compton. While the cops had measured it at 300 pounds, it was actually only 27 pounds of bud. “It was ridiculous to me that they were even pursuing this,” she said, commenting on how well the grower had documented his medical recommendation. Margolin managed to convince the jury of the man’s innocence, winning the case. Despite the fact that the confiscated plants have long been dead, she’s pursuing a court order to return them, something that would allow her client to sue the cops in civil court.
During the middle of the case, the defendant’s son was the victim of a drive-by shooting. “It just highlighted the irony and the sickness of the entire prosecution, that they would continue to go after this guy for growing with a medical card and there’s obviously rampant crime in that same area,” she said.
Getting into Allison’s Legal Briefs
The law profession is typically relatively conservative. What motivated you to adopt the title “L.A.’s Dopest Attorney”?
Well, my assistant and I were looking through one of the papers in L.A. and we thought maybe I should advertise. We considered L.A.’s Hippest Lawyer, but that sounded a little too 60s, you know? I love L.A.’s Dopest it because it’s a double entendre. It’s the rap slang of “dope,” meaning good, but also implies drugs.
Do you think you get a lot of play in the press because, in a conservative profession like law, you’re a highly atypical lawyer?
Well, people make a lot of comments. But I’m actually very good with old school lawyers and working with the establishment. I mean, I grew up around criminal lawyers. My dad has been a criminal lawyer for 30 years, so I’ve known all these old-time criminal lawyers since I was pretty small.
I also get along with judges. You know, I’m like, Harvard educated and articulate, so they respect my arguments. It’s mostly other lawyers who are just being jealous haters who give me a hard time. But when I’m in court, I’m an attorney and I’m talking at their level…and hopefully beyond their level.
The topic of your application essay to Harvard Law School was the legalization of drugs. Were you nervous you’d be rejected for such a controversial stance?
You know, it’s funny, because the only person who really thought it was going to be a problem was my dad, which is very ironic you know, since he’s obviously a lot of my intellectual inspiration. I didn’t really worry. To be honest, in our universe, it’s not even controversial. I would say legalizing drugs is not really that controversial among the real educated academic liberals.
The LA Times noted that you’re “devoted to the tabloids.” Are you into that culture?
Yea [laughing]. It’s Thursday, so I had to get them on my way to court today. I feel a little guilty about it because I’m not really a fan of, you know, how paparazzi overwhelm people’s lives. I feel kinda guilty for participating in that. But, at the same time, it’s like a healthy diversion for me. It’s one of the few things that take my mind out of, you know, being obsessed about my clients or some judge.
Let’s talk about victimless crimes. You advocate the legalization of all drugs and also prostitution. How would the United States improve if our cultural tolerance —and our laws — were more like The Netherlands?
Well, substance abuse would go down. I think that cases involving sexual perversion would go down. I guess the juxtaposition of our [current] culture, which was founded in Puritanism, against these [conservative] laws that reflect that, makes for an extreme society.
Do you think some of that is the “forbidden fruit” phenomenon going on?
Yea, it’s like Puritanism creating extremism. First it’s the forbidden fruit, then that most people are never really educated about drugs. Kids think, well, I can do pot and still do well in school, so maybe I should start shooting up. That sounds extreme, but I think it’s a reality for some people.
So pot was normalized when you were growing up?
I was like a nerd and a straight A student…I’m sure they wouldn’t have been thrilled with me doing any psychoactive substances during my early years. But it probably wouldn’t have been the end of the world.
We all agree that current federal and most state pot laws are illogical and waste taxpayer dollars. How the hell do we get out of this mess?
I say we should [sell] over-the-counter to those over 21, or even over 18. I would go for that. The reason being that it’s not toxic. That’s why I feel so passionately about it. All use is medical use in my opinion. Society is medicalizing every problem…even minor social anxieties. With marijuana being non-toxic and able to solve a lot of these ailments, I think it should be used on a wide scale.
What advice can you give to the average toker to help them avoid being busted?
Never consent to a search. Once you consent, you can’t fight that illegal search and seizure. Also don’t make any comments to the police. People think, because they’re [medically] legal, they’re going to explain it away to the police. But they’re really just further incriminating themselves. And lastly, don’t have it in your car, especially if you’re driving high.
What do you think about the politics behind the compassion club busts in L.A.?
It’s just really fucked up. I think it’s the federal government saying we’re just going to use our power. We don’t care. Doing it in West Hollywood is a very big statement, because it really is just showing a complete indifference and disrespect to a community that’s actually the people who need medical marijuana the most of anyway. It has a huge AIDS population. But [the federal government] is pretty much saying go fuck yourself. They don’t care if these are the most sick people. I guess they’re just doing it to flex their power and really show their indifference to the plight of Americans.