Pubdate: Thu, 02 Aug 2007
Source: Santa Monica Mirror (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Santa Monica Mirror
Author: Thomas Elias, Mirror Contributing Writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Ed Rosenthal)


There's something almost idiotic about the obviously confused and 
misguided way in which federal authorities are trying to enforce 
anti-marijuana laws in California today.

Nothing better illustrates this than the headlines that appeared 
together in newspapers this spring and summer about numerous pot 
raids in middle class neighborhoods across the state and those about 
the second trial of medical marijuana activist Ed Rosenthal of 
Oakland, an author sometimes known as the "guru of ganja."

In the eastern Los Angeles County suburb of Diamond Bar, authorities 
burst into a three-bedroom home one day and found the entire house 
had been converted into a massive indoor marijuana farm with an 
elaborate irrigation system and overhead lights on timers set up to 
bypass electric meters that might have alerted the local utility 
something odd was going on in the house.

One week earlier, another house, similarly outfitted, was raided. The 
total take from the two houses came to about $22 
million-in-street-value worth of high-grade pot. No one would ever 
suggest that this much marijuana was being grown for medicinal uses. 
No one lived in these houses, whose substantial value as real estate 
was dwarfed by the value of what was grown inside.

The two houses were among a dozen raided in various parts of the 
state, with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration guessing the 
clearly commercial pot-growing operation was run by Chinese American 
gangs possibly based in San Francisco's historically crime-ridden Chinatown.

Meanwhile, in a federal courtroom in San Francisco, Rosenthal was on 
trial for a second time on charges of growing pot for use by a 
medical dispensary. He wound up innocent of three-fourths of the 
counts originally filed against him.

Medipot dispensaries and "clubs" have proliferated around the state 
since passage of California's 1996 Proposition 215, which attempted 
to allow legal use of marijuana for medical purposes.

But federal authorities never recognized Proposition 215 or the 
similar laws passed afterward in 14 other states. They insist, 
correctly, that federal drug laws banning marijuana use in any 
circumstance other than a U.S. government-sanctioned clinical trial 
take precedence over any state law.

So they've gone after dozens of medical pot users and their 
providers. Rosenthal's case is only the most ludicrous waste of 
federal dollars in this area.

The medipot activist, who had been given official status as a 
provider under an Oakland city ordinance set up to facilitate 
Proposition 215 -- the will of the voters -- was first convicted in 
federal court in 2003. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer (brother of 
Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer) refused to allow the jury in 
that case to learn of Rosenthal's city officer designation.

An appeals court later threw out that conviction because of a juror's 
improper phone calls asking advice from an attorney friend during 
deliberations. But other jurors said they would never have voted to 
convict if they'd known Rosenthal had been "deputized" by his city.

As federal prosecutors readied Rosenthal's retrial, Breyer threw out 
five charges they wanted to bring and advised the U.S. Attorney's 
office not to continue the case, obviously believing it a ludicrous 
prosecution because Rosenthal could not be given a sentence exceeding 
the one day he served after the first conviction. But Breyer again 
would not let the second jury hear of Rosenthal's "deputized" city status.

No one yet knows how much the utterly useless prosecutions of 
Rosenthal have cost taxpayers or how many resources this trial and 
others involving genuine medipot growers have diverted from the real 
problem -- commercial cultivators who constantly seem to remain one 
step and one technique ahead of law enforcement.

Each year, a combination of state, federal and local agents conduct 
large-scale raids against marijuana farms around the state, from the 
redwood forests of Humboldt and Mendocino counties to the 
scrub-covered canyons of the Angeles National Forest in Southern California.

The hauls from the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting are always in 
the billions of dollars in street value -- one reason growers appear 
to have headed indoors. For sure, the raids on indoor, house-based 
pot farms in the last few months have destroyed pot worth close to 
what CAMP found outside last summer and fall.

CAMP officials have sometimes said they find less than 20 percent of 
the pot grown outside in California. Because they can't detect the 
indoor farms from helicopters and other aircraft, as they often do 
outside farms, chances are they are confiscating less than 10 percent 
of what's grown indoors.

Something's plainly wrong with this picture. Federal authorities are 
trying to shut down city-sanctioned pot dispensaries that require 
their customers to have doctors' recommendations to use pot, but 
can't do much against massive commercial pot growers.

The federal government's priorities are obviously out of whack here: 
if marijuana is truly destructive, why go after suppliers of cancer 
patients and others with serious illnesses, even to the extent of 
conducting an essentially pointless re-prosecution like Rosenthal's? 
Why not instead use the money, agents, lawyers and equipment for more 
concerted efforts against large-scale commercial growers whose sales 
have truly destructive potential?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom