Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jun 2003
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2003 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Duncan Campbell
Alert!: #267 D.E.A. Suffers Setback With Breyer Ruling

Los Angeles Dispatch


The Token Sentence Given to a California Marijuana Grower Exposes The
Clash Between That State's Lenient Approach to Drugs and the Federal
Government's Medieval One, Writes Duncan Campbell

The reports leading up to the sentencing last week of Ed Rosenthal,
the "guru of ganja" in San Francisco, suggested variously that he
faced 60 years, 100 years or life inside for the offence of growing
marijuana plants for medical use in an Oakland warehouse. In the
event, he was sentenced to just one day, which he had already served.
No one seriously believed that Rosenthal was going down for 100 years,
even in these mad times when another California resident is serving 50
years for shoplifting some videos. But the prosecution were hoping for
a sentence of five years and other medical marijuana growers in the
state whose cases received less prominence are indeed already serving
those kinds of sentences.

What was intriguing about the Rosenthal case was the clash between
California and the federal government over the issue. California is
one of nine states that recognise medical usages of marijuana in one
form or another but all 42 prosecutions connected to medical use and
all six raids of medical marijuana clubs have taken place in California.

At issue is not only whether marijuana should be allowed for medical
use but also how much independence a state should have in taking a
path opposed by the federal government; California voted to allow the
use of medical marijuana in 1996 but the government argues that
federal law over-rides a state's wishes. The Bush administration came
to power championing the rights of the state against the interference
of big government but does not want to extend a state's rights on this

California has a Democratic party governor - at least for the next few
months - and Democratic party control of the house of representatives
and senate. It voted overwhelmingly for Al Gore in 2000. This has led
some people to suggest that the state is being targeted by the
attorney general, John Ashcroft, and President Bush as a kind of
payback for its apostasy. But even if one believed this, the
prosecutions are hard to understand.

Why the FBI is being used to pursue the proponents of medical
marijuana at a time when the country's terror alert status seems to
waver frantically between code orange, crimson and puce is something
possibly only a psychologist could tell us. But the derisory sentence
given to Ed Rosenthal - similar to a libel award of a penny in the
British courts - must surely now raise the odd eyebrow back in Washington.

LA's new - well, newish - chief of police, William Bratton, has not
shied away from speaking his mind since he came to LA. I have seen him
address three public meetings now and one of the most interesting
things he has said was that there were far too many people in prison
for drugs offences and that this was partly the fault of the
"foolishness" of the mandatory minimum sentence laws related to drugs.
These are the laws that send some marijuana users away for much longer
times than rapists or child molesters and which currently account for
the jailing of 400,000 people in the US.

Less publicised last week was the suggestion from the US surgeon
general that it would be no bad thing if tobacco was banned. To which
Philip Morris USA, the tobacco giant, responded quite reasonably that
prohibition had been tried before in the US and had been "a disaster".

So we have a senior judge in San Francisco and the chief of police in
LA effectively saying that the drugs laws are a nonsense and one of
the country's largest corporations stating that prohibition was a
disaster. It would be reassuring for the people currently doing 20
years for growing marijuana to imagine that this conjunction of the
executive and judicial arm of law enforcement with big business might
herald a national awakening about the medieval nature of the current
drugs laws. But don't hold your breath. Or - if you do - don't inhale.
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