Pubdate: Fri, 03 Aug 2007
Source: Pasadena Star-News, The (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Pasadena Star News
Author: Thomas Elias
Note: Thomas Elias is a syndicated columnist who covers California 
issues. He lives in Santa Monica.
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


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 that
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.

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

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.

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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