Though lawyering and judging rarely overlap, they do with Omar Figueroa—arguably the North Bay’s most flamboyant cannabis lawyer.
Last December, Figueroa served as a judge at the Emerald Cup. Is he worried about disbarment? Hell no!
“Judging was great fun,” he says.
It also added to the luster of his legend.
Born in Mexico and a graduate of Stanford and Yale, Figueroa initially made a name for himself as a criminal defense lawyer. Then, in 2018, after California began to regulate and tax cannabis, he reinvented himself as a business attorney. More recently, he focused his energy on the local hemp industry.
“Dairy farmers struggling financially, and even social conservatives, will cultivate hemp since it’s legal by federal law and because the local moratorium will be lifted,” Figueroa tells me over lunch at Fork Roadhouse on Bohemian Highway. He adds, “Judging cannabis at the Emerald Cup has to do with smelling, tasting and touching. Plus, you need stamina. It’s not for lightweights.”
For the annual competition, Figueroa traveled to a secret location in Mendocino County. There, he and a half-dozen other connoisseurs consumed and then debated the merits of the cannabis cartridges they sampled.
“The judges were like kids in a candy store,” Figueroa says. “They were also savvy smokers. After talking with them, I changed my mind and revised my ranking.”
After the New Year, Figueroa will join the board of the California Cannabis Tourism Association (CCTA) recently founded by Guerneville resident, Brian Applegarth. In 2020, CCTA will strive to legalize cannabis consumption at the same locations it’s sold. Right now that’s a no-no in Sonoma County.
Like a savvy judge before a hushed jury, Figueroa demolishes law-enforcement arguments against on-site consumption: there’s been no spike in cannabis-related DUIs and no “reefer madness” since legalization; because of easy access to Lyft or Uber, there’s no need for patrons to drive to dispensaries; and dispensaries can install air filters so no smoke escapes and inadvertently impacts innocent bystanders.
Lunch finished, Figueroa returns to the lessons he learned at the Emerald Cup.
“It was mind-expanding,” he says. “But I lost all enthusiasm for vape cartridges.”
Indeed, doctors urge medical marijuana patients and recreational users to avoid cartridges until scientists figure out the cause of Vaping-Associated Pulmonary Illness (VAPI). Last year, vaping harmed more than 1,000 people. Fifty people died.
No wonder Figueroa says, “I’ve switched to using flower in my Volcano.” That’s a sound judgment.
Jonah Raskin is the author of “Dark Day, Dark Night: A Marijuana Murder Mystery.”