Pubdate: Wed, 13 Jul 2005
Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser (CA)
Column: Cannabinotes
Copyright: 2005 Anderson Valley Advertiser
Author: Fred Gardner
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Cited: Gonzales v. Raich ( )


Robert "Duke" Schmidt has been sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for 
growing and distributing marijuana.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer meted out the terms in his San Francisco 
courtroom July 7. Schmidt reports to the Bureau of Prisons Sept. 1.  He is 
one of about 30 West Coast medical-marijuana growers, distributors and/or 
users whose cases had been put on hold pending the U.S. Supreme Court's 
ruling in Gonzales v. Raich.

Schmidt first appeared before Breyer in March 2003, soon after Ed 
Rosenthal's widely publicized trial.

Although Rosenthal had faced similar charges, he received a one-day 
sentence, time served.

What was different about Schmidt's case?

In 1999, Schmidt had founded a non-profit dispensary, Genesis 1:29, which 
he ran out of his home in Petaluma. As membership grew, he supplemented his 
homegrown with cannabis produced at other sites.

Schmidt says his goal was to develop standardized plant strains with known 
cannabinoid contents and study their effects on patients with various 
conditions. As he put it in one of several applications filed with the U.S. 
Drug Enforcement Administration, "It is the intent of Genesis Research 
Group to develop well characterized drug substance and document patient 
input to develop efficacy correlations between the chemical components of 
the cannabis plant for different clinical indications."

Schmidt was inspired to seek DEA approval after learning about Registration 
Form 225. "It's an application to manufacture and distribute scheduled 
drugs," explained Schmidt in a March 2003 interview. "I filed an 
application, and the DEA issued me a receipt." Schmidt said he also 
informed the state Attorney General's office of his activities.  "For three 
seasons I told them in advance what I was going to plant, I updated them 
during the growing season, and I reported how much I harvested."

The DEA raided Schmidt's house in the early morning hours of Sept. 12, 
2002. Schmidt, a small, wiry man in 50s, attempted to wrestle the rifle 
away from the agent who had awakened him with a prod of the barrel -for 
which he is also charged with assault on an officer in the line of duty. 
"My post-traumatic stress disorder is triggered by having guns pointed at 
me," said Schmidt, "especially when I'm woke up with one in my face."  The 
DEA also confiscated 2,600 plants from a site Schmidt leased in Sebastopol.

The jury that found Ed Rosenthal guilty of cultivation (as well as 
conspiracy and maintaining a grow-op) determined the amount to be not 
3,000+ plants, as alleged by the feds, but fewer than 100, which carried 
"only" a five-year mandatory minimum.

Ed's lawyers had challenged the number of rooted plants seized at his 
warehouse, and the definition of a viable plant.

But whereas Ed was growing cloned seedlings, Schmidt was growing big, 
healthy outdoor plants. "The place looked like a Christmas tree farm," he 
recalled with some pride.

Ed, by dint of his savvy and status as a writer/publisher, and his 
connections, and his fundraising ability, and his family and extensive 
support system, had unique resources to bring to his court fight. Also, Ed 
was a nonviolent first offender, somebody about whom jurors could declare, 
"Ed Rosenthal is not a criminal."

"Duke" Schmidt, however, did not have a middle-class aura or a 
private-sector lawyer, and he had, in fact, done time in federal prison. 
Schmidt was born and raised on Put In Island in Lake Erie. His father was a 
tugboat captain, then a boatbuilder. "Boats were second nature to 
me,"  says Schmidt. "The sea, no matter how bad it got in a storm, I knew 
how to work a boat through it."  He was turned on to marijuana in the late 
'60s by Midwest college students vacationing at Great Lakes resorts.

He helped ferry a few of them to Canada (instead of Vietnam). Somebody 
suggested that his skills could be put to use bringing marijuana in from 
Colombia, and he eventually did, making regular runs to Florida and 
Louisiana. "It was a mistake of youth and I know it, and I've paid my debt 
to society," said Schmidt in '03. "All I can say in my own defense is that 
I was offered a lot of money to run guns, and more money to run cocaine, to 
run heroin, and I always turned it down. My interest was always marijuana."

Schmidt remembers the Paraquat days:  "In 1978 there was more than 12 
million acres of land in South America growing the finest cannabis sativa. 
One morning when we were loading up and getting it ready for transport to 
the coast, we noticed a lot of American C-140 aircraft flying overhead. 
Then the sky became orange, the whole valley was orange with the defoliant 
they were dropping.

We had a DC-3 there and the wings were so heavy with this spray that it 
would not lift off. We pulled our t-shirts over our heads, we grabbed what 
stuff we had baled up, and we made it to the coast.  It took us four days 
overland.  When I got back to the United States I asked, 'When did we 
declare war on Colombia?' Everybody was wondering what I was talking 
about...  That area now is all heroin fields and coca fields."

Schmidt pled guilty to bringing in 2,780,000 pounds of marijuana between 
1973 and '78. He did only two years at a federal penitentiary in Michigan 
because he could trade something the government wanted: knowledge of how he 
had avoided them on the high seas. (He had a scanner monitoring every Coast 
Guard cutter, and when they headed into port, he shot over their wake.)

Given his prior conviction and facing a mandatory minimum of 20 years, 
Schmidt accepted the federal public defender's advice and pled guilty 
before Breyer to a charge of maintaining a place for the manufacture of 
marijuana, which carried a five-year maximum.

The sentencing phase was put off until the Raich decision came down. 
Schmidt expresses no animosity towards Breyer. "I was hoping for less time, 
of course," he said July 8, "but his hands were tied. Judges don't have 
much leeway, even under the Booker decision." Schmidt has no forgiveness 
for his prosecutors, who, he says, "made false allegations, including that 
I had children working for me."  Schmidt, a true believer, reiterates his 
original rationale for Genesis: 129 -de facto approval from the DEA. "I 
registered with the federal government and they cashed my check for three 

This is what I get for complying with the law. This is an allowable issue, 
otherwise the University of Mississippi wouldn't be growing marijuana and 
the University of Massachusetts wouldn't be arguing for the right to do so 
with help from the ACLU. I was trying to run a bona fide research facility 
with 1500 patients. The federal government has seven patients left in their 
research program. Who had the broader platform?"

Support Requested

Among the defendants whose cases will move forward now that the Supreme 
Court has ruled on Raich are two growers who were released from prison 
pending the outcome, Bryan Epis and Keith Alden. Epis, who helped launch a 
dispensary in Chico after Prop 215 passed in 1996, was convicted in 
September '02 of cultivating more than 1,000 plants.

He was given a 53-month sentence by U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell. He 
served 22 months before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals directed 
that he be let out on bail. Epis will be re-sentenced by Damrell August 1. 
The U.S. Attorney's office is asking that the full sentence be re-imposed. 
Attorney Brenda Grantland is hoping that letters from people who know Epis 
will convince Damrell that her client "is not a typical commercial pot 
grower." She's also urging medical cannabis users who can give concrete 
examples of its efficacy to write The Honorable Frank C. Damrell, Jr., U.S. 
District Court, 501 I Street, Suite 4-200, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Keith Alden of Windsor (Sonoma County) served 20 months of a 44-month 
sentence for cultivation before being released on bail in April 2004. His 
sentence is on appeal before the 9th Circuit. Letters of support for Alden 
should go to Cathy Catterson, Clerk of the Court, U.S. Court of Appeals 
Ninth Circuit, P.O. Box 193939, San Francisco, CA 94119. Form letters are 
available at

WAMM -the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a Santa Cruz collective 
whose directors, Mike and Valerie Corral, were arrested by the DEA in 
September 2002- will hold a march July 16 as "a preemptive attempt to 
influence the perception of the federal government." Supporters are invited 
to assemble between 11 a.m. and noon at the corner of Pacific and Cathcart 

For details contact Mimi Hill (831) 425-0580 or visit WAMM is 
hoping for a serious show of support -1,000 people or more.

As we go to press word comes word that San Diego organizer Steve McWilliams 
has taken his life. McWilliams, 50, was a tough guy, a former cowboy who 
used cannabis to cope with excruciating migraines His friend David Bronner 
emailed on Tuesday, after hearing from Barbara MacKenzie, Steve's partner: 
Steve committed suicide by overdose late last night/early morning.  Steve 
had been depressed and in terrible pain, and been hospitalized last week. 
Steve's depression was apparently a combination of dread of going to jail 
in light of Raich and his deteriorating health.  He had had to take 
powerful pharmaceutical opiates, anti-nausea, anti-migraine, etc. drugs in 
far higher amounts than when he was able to medicate with marijuana, and 
evidently was what he used to overdose.

"Steve was an incredibly kind, compassionate, intelligent and wise man, as 
well as a balls to the wall activist.  He inspired me and many others, and 
will be dearly missed.  I was proud to know him and be his friend.

Steve will be cremated and flown back to his family in Colorado." A 
memorial service is being organized.   There will be a gathering at Police 
Dept. Headquarters on Wednesday 7/13 to protest law enforcement hounding 
Steve McWilliams to death.
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