If the mere mention of April 20 (a.k.a. 4/20) makes you giggle, chances are you could do well to heed the advice of Charlie Roadman. A local musician (he fronts the Wilco-esque band F for Fake) and promoter, Roadman is also an attorney whose pet cause is defending people accused of marijuana violations — particularly musicians, such as Los Lonely Boys' JoJo Garza. In what's become an annual tradition on this stoniest of days, Roadman conducts a seminar called "Marijuana Law For Musicians," a humorous PowerPoint presentation in which he details many of the dos and don'ts of getting busted in Travis County. The A.V. Club recently spoke with Roadman about the common law violations musicians face, how not to get arrested (and what to do if you are), and what it's like being one of the town's most visible defenders of marijuana.
The A.V. Club: How does your being a musician aid you in defending them?
Charlie Roadman: I understand that $100 is a lot of money, which a lot of attorneys don't. And I've hung out with musicians all my life, so pretty quickly we can have a dialogue that doesn't have the dominant position of lawyer and client. [When I started], I thought there would be a lot more musicians getting arrested, and there really aren't. I think they're too busy making flyers and rehearsing to get in trouble.
AVC: Besides marijuana violations, what are musicians commonly in trouble for?
CR: DWIs, mostly. One of the things I talk about in my seminar is that — even though it seems funny to drive while you're stoned — if the officer thinks you're high, you will get a DWI, and that's not easy to get out of.
AVC: How would they decide that you're high?
CR: The eyes and the smell mostly. They're always looking for it. Then there's the field sobriety test.
AVC: What would spur them to give a field sobriety test?
CR: For them to let you go, they have to be willing to risk their job. They'll never ever get in trouble for arresting people. So when they ask you to do the field sobriety test, nine times out of 10 they've already decided that they're arresting you, and they're just trying to gather evidence. Those tests are not designed for you to pass.
AVC: Let's talk about one of the most famous local cases: Matthew McConaughey, which you use in your seminar. What could he have done differently?
CR: The thing he did wrong was resist arrest and refuse to put on his clothes. He's an example of absolutely what not to do. He's standing there totally nude, screaming at these cops, "Get the fuck out of my house!" Don't resist. Don't be terrified to go to Travis County jail on a marijuana charge. You're gonna get out in eight to 24 hours, barring a few variables. You don't have to join a gang to stay alive, or whack anybody to prove you're a man. You can usually get a class C ticket if you haven't pissed off the cops, if you have a job or go to school, and haven't said too much that's incriminating.
AVC: But in McConaughey's case, it was his celebrity that got him off?
CR: Absolutely, yes. The punch line to my "Top 10 Ways to Avoid a Marijuana Conviction" is "Be a movies star and number one UT football supporter."
AVC: What about people whose celebrity is linked to marijuana? How is it that Willie Nelson isn't always in jail?
CR: [laughs] I have no idea. If it were you or me, we definitely would have been arrested. Cops don't want to arrest Willie Nelson, but really, the whole criminal justice system is based around people not wanting to lose their jobs.
AVC: So do you philosophically disagree with marijuana prosecution?
CR: There's no way I could prosecute somebody for any drugs, but absolutely not for marijuana. The first marijuana case that came across my desk, I'd dismiss it and I'd be fired. The system is really effective at stopping people from being cool. And not just marijuana, but the way we handle all drug users. If this culture ever has an enlightenment, 200 years from now, they'll look back at this and go, "Those guys were barbarians."
AVC: Do you think marijuana will ever be legalized?
CR: It pains me to say it, but I don't have faith that it will. There's just no rationality to it at all. Luckily in Travis County — which is a little bit of California surrounded by Alabama — you have the possibility that someone on the jury will be like you or me. So if prosecutors aren't reasonable in the plea bargain for a marijuana case, defense attorneys can say, "We're going to jury trial and we may win." You don't really have that option in Hays or Williamson County.
AVC: By putting yourself out there with these seminars and proclaiming yourself as a "defender of marijuana," do you find you're under closer scrutiny?
CR: People do the same thing with DWI charges, and that's a lot riskier in terms of public reaction. I think that people in Travis County smile when it's marijuana. The judges don't even want to deal with it. But they can't not deal with it, or the next time an election comes along a candidate will say, "My opponent is soft on drugs." It's a hypocrisy that everyone wishes they didn't have to deal with you, but it's not possible because of the bureaucracy. I wish it were.
But then you might be out of a job.
CR: That's okay. I could do something else.