HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Rosenthal Verdict Cheapens American Justice
Pubdate: Tue, 18 Feb 2003
Source: San Mateo County Times, The (CA)
Copyright: 2003, MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers


IT'S not every day jurors apologize to the person they convicted just
days after they issued their verdict. But that's exactly what happened
in the trial of Ed Rosenthal, convicted of three federal felonies for
cultivating marijuana. He faces between five and 85 years in prison.

Jurors said if they had known Rosenthal was acting as an officer of
Oakland under a city ordinance to grow marijuana for cooperatives and
patients for medical use, they would never have convicted him.
Oakland's law is in accordance with California's Proposition 215,
approved by voters in 1996 to permit marijuana use for medical
purposes. Not coincidentally, Rosenthal's official role for the city
was the one fact the judge went to great lengths to keep from the jurors.

We think the trial of Rosenthal was more of a persecution than a
prosecution. The conviction should be appealed and overturned. The
case is a true test of the higher courts' respect for states' rights.
More important, any trial that leaves jurors feeling they have been
manipulated and misled is a disservice to our system of justice.

Rosenthal, 58, the self-described "Guru of Ganja," is a well-known
author and advocate of marijuana use for medical purposes. Last
February, Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided his home
office, among other medical marijuana operations. On Rosenthal's
property, they found more than 100 marijuana plants.

When the case came to trial, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer would
not allow any testimony or evidence of Rosenthal's role as an agent of
the city, operating under a state law, saying it was irrelevant to
federal law which forbids marijuana cultivation. Without that
information, it was a cut-and-dried decision for the jurors who
convicted Rosenthal. But once they were informed of the context of
Rosenthal's actions, they felt differently.

"It's the most horrible mistake I've ever made in my entire life,"
said one juror. "Ed Rosenthal is not a criminal. He should never have
been convicted. He needs a jury that is allowed to hear all the
evidence." Eight jurors went public with their criticism and called
for a new trial.

The judge's exclusion of the evidence and testimony about Rosenthal's
official role may have been technically correct, based on the legal
principle that motivation is not relevant to guilt or innocence, but
it's bad law. It would be like putting Abraham Lincoln on trial for
conducting a war without introducing the fact that he was trying to
save the union.

In addition, there is another glitch in Rosenthal's trial. The grand
jury was apparently misled by the federal prosecutor who told jurors
Rosenthal's actions were not protected under California law. They
were. If he had not made such a statement, Rosenthal might never have
been indicted in the first place. Breyer is reviewing a motion to
throw out the indictment on which the case was based.

If the federal government refuses to accept the will of the voters in
California and several other states, it should go after the laws, not
the individuals who are simply executing them. The issue of medical
marijuana is sure to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, and it will be
interesting to see whether jurists are consistent with their support
of state's rights. In this case, a decision protecting states' rights
would permit states to allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

In the meantime, the tactic of going after individuals is clearly
designed to have a chilling effect, but it comes at a great cost. Our
government looks like a bully, and our justice system is cheapened. 
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