Richard Rosen

A 2015 portrait of Richard Rosen, who retired from practicing law in 2014.

Richard Rosen was an attorney who changed the lives of his local clients, and who changed the policy landscape more broadly for legal cannabis. 

He imagined a world with legal cannabis for decades before it actually arrived. As a defense attorney and "as a fan of 'ganja,'" as he described himself to the Weekly in 2015, he decided to dedicate his private practice to cannabis law. He served on the committee of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Law, or NORML, which helped craft the laws that now allow for legal cannabis recreationally and medicinally in a number of states. 

Rosen died on Wednesday, Nov. 11, after a year's long battle with lymphoma. He was 72. 

He retired in December of 2014 after 40 years and hundreds of marijuana-related cases to focus on something he might be even better known for than his legal career—his musical hobby. 

“I spent 40 years fighting with people as a trial lawyer,” Rosen said in 2015. “Music is about harmonizing with people.”

He played harmonica and sang the blues, and was a regular fixture of the Cachagua General Store's Monday night dinners. He lived in Carmel Valley since 1977. 

He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Susan, and two sons, Gabe and Evan. 

Susan notes that despite Rosen's affection for taking on cannabis clients, he himself never consumed much cannabis. "Everyone assumed he would be a big pothead which he was not," she says. And that was not the only disconnect she saw between his personal and professional lives: "He was surprising people with his gentleness. He only roared like a lion professionally, that's not who he was personally at all," she says. 

Gabe sees his personal and professional lives and values as closely aligned. "The elements of his public persona as a hard-hitting attorney and a joyous musician, we all got to see that too. He was so meticulous in his preparations, always researching and writing."

Both Gabe and Evan describe him as a great father—someone who would never miss a sports event, for instance, even with a busy caseload—and someone who set an example for pursuing life's passions.  

"He was a tremendous role model for showing you could do what you love and not be bored for a day in your life," Gabe says. 

Evan says principle was the guiding force for Rosen in his life and in his legal practice. "Excellence was something he really imparted to us, and I think he lived in his work and in his music," he says. "He was really motivated by doing the right thing in the world." 

Gabe adds that Rosen was drawn both through his music and his legal practice to underdogs.

"He had an affinity for interesting characters and underdogs. Nobody else's Passover seder involved a profanity-laced classic rock ballad," Gabe says. 

Susan says he was drawn to work and art that mattered deeply to him. "He cared," she says. "He walked the talk."

The family is not planning any virtual ceremonies at this time. 

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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