Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jan 2003
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Contact:  2002 San Francisco Examiner
Author: J.K. Dineen


Twelve-year-old Christine Rosenthal knows her daddy could spend the rest of 
his life in jail, but still thinks he did the right thing by risking his 
freedom for medicinal marijuana.

"He is standing up for sick people," the middle school student said 
Tuesday, after watching the first day of her father Ed Rosenthal's trial. 
"I'm really proud of my dad -- he's a hero, really."

The young Rosenthal's comments came after an intense day in a landmark 
trial that both advocates and foes of medicinal marijuana across the nation 
are watching closely. While ostensibly an ordinary drug trial, beneath the 
surface it's a legal showdown pitting the Bush administration against one 
of the nation's best-known medicinal marijuana advocates, who has 
championed the drug's health benefits for three decades.

After the session, Rosenthal said the trial was about "a life sentence for 
me" -- and much more.

"They are trying to put a stake through the heart of Prop. 215," he said, 
referring to the law that legalized medicinal marijuana in California.

 From the prosecution's perspective, it's a slamdunk cultivating and 
distribution drug case.

Federal prosecutor George Bevan told the jury that on Feb. 12 of last year 
agents seized some 3,000 plants growing in Rosenthal's warehouse in 
Oakland. He said the marijuana-growing operation constituted "a federal 
offense" and that they were dealing with a drug case, like any other drug case.

"This case is about growing marijuana indoors," Bevan said.

District Judge Charles Breyer seemed to agree, consistently reminding jury 
members that the fact that many city and county officials supported 
medicinal marijuana was irrelevant.

"Whatever the purpose was of the growth of marijuana is not for you to 
consider," he said.

Despite the warnings, the issue was the undercurrent of the opening day 
testimony, so much so that at times there seemed to be two trials going on: 
one about Ed Rosenthal, producer and seller of narcotics; the other about 
medicinal marijuana laws and the Bay Area's warm embrace of them. The drug 
remains illegal under federal law.

Rosenthal's lawyers stressed that Rosenthal -- a wry, owlish-looking writer 
who comes across more like a classics professor than a drug-dealer -- had 
never tried to hide his operation, and received the go-ahead from "The City 
of Oakland" to grow the plants, even inviting code enforcement officials in 
to make sure his wiring was up to date.

Electrician Nathaniel Tyler said he toured the facility with code 
inspectors from the Oakland Fire Department and that the inspectors were 
concerned with wires and fire exits -- not with the sticky green plants 
growing under high-pressure sodium lamps.

"Rosenthal wanted to make sure he was in compliance with the local city 
ordinances," said Tyler, who was paid almost $10,000 for extensive 
electrical work.

In addition to indirectly raising the specter of Proposition 215, 
Rosenthal's lawyers also took issue with some technicalities. While the 
prosecution emphasized the "array of vegetative evidence" seized at 
Rosenthal's warehouses, the defense zeroed in on whether the plants were 
"rooted" or "unrooted." Under federal law, only rooted plants would be 
counted in the cultivating charges.

"They've got no rooted plants, they've got nothing," said Rosenthal 
attorney William Simpich.

The prosecution claimed they confiscated 190 "rooted" plants, in addition 
to several thousand unrooted ones. Special DEA agent Dan Tuey showed a 
video of a raid in which he picks up some of the pot plants and points out 
what seem to be roots -- at least to Judge Breyer.

"I watched the video and some appeared to have roots," said the judge. "Are 
you saying, 'No judge, your glasses are foggy' ?" After the hearing, one 
local marijuana supporter called the day's testimony a "mockery of justice."

"It was like a Moscow show trial," said Dale Gieringer, the head of local 
chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The judge said he expects to complete witness testimony on Wednesday and 
hear closing arguments Thursday.
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