HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Misguided Marijuana War
Pubdate: Tue, 04 Feb 2003
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2003 The New York Times Company
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Administration officials annoyed at California's support of the
medical use of marijuana have found someone on whom to vent their
frustration. Last week, at the urging of federal prosecutors, a judge
convicted Ed Rosenthal of charges that carry a five-year minimum
sentence. Mr. Rosenthal is a medical-marijuana advocate who grows the
drug for use by the seriously ill. His harsh punishment shows that the
misguided federal war on medical marijuana has now escalated out of

Mr. Rosenthal, who raised marijuana in an Oakland warehouse, was
acting within state and local law. California's Proposition 215, which
voters approved in a 1996 referendum, permits marijuana use by
seriously ill people. In addition, Oakland has its own medical
marijuana law, and Mr. Rosenthal was acting as an officer of the city.
Nevertheless, the judge refused to allow the defense to mention any of
this at his trial, since it is not a valid defense against federal
drug charges.

Prosecutors were thus able to present Mr. Rosenthal as an ordinary,
big-time drug dealer. After a witness said he had met Mr. Rosenthal
"in the context of Proposition 215," the judge instructed the jury to
disregard the reference, and took over the questioning himself. The
foreman said afterward he felt the jury had had no choice but to
convict, but hoped Mr. Rosenthal would win on appeal.

The prosecution of Mr. Rosenthal is only the latest attempt by the
federal government to frustrate the will of California voters.
Washington has also tried to revoke the licenses of doctors who
recommend marijuana to their patients. This strategy was struck down
as unconstitutional by a federal court last fall.

The Bush administration's war on medical marijuana is not only
misguided but mean-spirited. Doctors have long recognized marijuana's
value in reducing pain and aiding in the treatment of cancer and AIDS,
among other diseases. A recent poll found that 80 percent of Americans
support legalized medical marijuana. The reasons the government gives
for objecting to it do not outweigh the good it does. And given the
lack of success of the war on drugs in recent years, there must be
better places to direct law enforcement resources.

If the Bush administration really believes Proposition 215 has no
legal authority, it should seek to strike down the law itself. Or it
could go after cities like Oakland, which make medical marijuana
available as part of municipal policy. Such an approach could be
inconvenient for an administration that favors greater autonomy for
state and local governments. But it is less vindictive than a strategy
that attacks doctors and people like Mr. Rosenthal.

The courts should not allow Mr. Rosenthal's conviction to stand. It
would be a serious injustice if he were to serve years in prison, as
he well may. Meanwhile, the administration should stop tyrannizing
doctors and sick people and focus on more important aspects of the war
on drugs.
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