Pubdate: Wed, 11 Jun 2003
Source: Daily Breeze (CA)
Copyright: 2003 The Copley Press Inc.
Author: William F. Buckley Jr.
Bookmark:  (Ed Rosenthal )


The experience of Ed Rosenthal of Oakland accelerates the day when heavy 
dilemmas in our legal system might just force a fresh look at our marijuana 
laws. Presumably that will have to happen when state legislators, members 
of Congress and presidents are in recess, because the great enemy of 
sensible reform has been, of course, politicians high from righteousness.

What happened to Rosenthal was that he was convicted of marijuana 
cultivation and conspiracy, and a conceivable sentence of l00 years in 
prison and a fine of $4.5 million. The defense attorney had been forbidden 
by presiding federal District Judge Charles Breyer to advise the jury of 
the perspectives of the defense. The city of Oakland, instructed by a 
statewide proposition in l996, had enacted an ordinance authorizing the 
growth of marijuana for medical use. The judge took the position that local 
laws do not override federal laws; therefore the verdict could not be 
influenced by the contradiction, and the jurors shouldn't be sidetracked by 
hearing about it.

The reasoning was identical to that of Judge George King in the case of 
computer guru and poet Peter McWilliams. Judge King did not permit 
McWilliams to base his defense on the California initiative. McWilliams 
died from AIDS while awaiting sentencing, unrelieved by the marijuana that 
critically lessened his nausea.

Sentencing day for Rosenthal was at hand on June 5, and there was some 
commotion when the thought was expressed that the guilty finding could mean 
life in prison. One juror had told the press that if she had known such 
might be the consequence of a guilty finding, she, and presumably other 
jurors, would not have voted as they did. The day came, and Judge Breyer 
sentenced Rosenthal to one day in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Now Ed Rosenthal is not to be confused with a stray felon who took a toke 
at an outdoor movie with his date. Oh no. Rosenthal is a full-time 
practitioner of resistance to marijuana legislation. He has written several 
books, totaling in sales more than 1 million. In one of his most recent, 
The Closet Cultivator, he outlined how to build an indoor marijuana-growing 
system impossible to detect through any method other than betrayal. When 
arrested, he was linked to a nearby warehouse full of the drug, ostensibly 
consigned for medical use.

Eric Schlosser of The Atlantic Monthly has published a deeply informative 
and readable book called Reefer Madness. He wonderfully illustrates the 
complexity, contradiction and futility of extant drug laws.

The problem is more than the laws' contradictions. The Uniform Sentencing 
Act has given prosecutors, not judges, almost plenary powers over 
defendants, power ruthlessly used to extract information and to encourage 
duplicity and to make property rights insecure. Judicial process is 
convoluted to the point where a judge can reasonably exercise a choice 
between 100 years in prison and one day in prison.

The marijuana laws can most directly be compared to the Prohibition-era 
laws, which didn't work, undermined the law and were capriciously enforced. 
If you buy an ounce in New York state, that could bring you a fine of $l00; 
in Louisiana, a jail sentence of 20 years. Ed Rosenthal is quoted by author 
Schlosser. Will the laws in America dissipate, as they have done in Europe? 
He doesn't think so. "They've made the laws so brittle, one day they're 
going to break."

The whole edifice of prohibition would come down, he predicted, "like the 
fall of the Berlin Wall."Schlosser nicely summarized Rosenthal's 
prediction. "A group of powerful, white, middle-aged men will meet in a 
room to discuss what to do about marijuana. And they will reach the only 
logical conclusion: tax it." As with booze, some will then go on to abuse 
it, though with consequences less dire.

William F. Buckley Jr. is the founder of National Review magazine.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom