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ASA Press Release: Federal Judge Rules Medical Marijuana Patient Vindictively Prosecuted

AMERICANS FOR SAFE ACCESS MEDIA RELEASE: Wednesday, March 14, 2007 Federal Judge Rules Medical Marijuana Patient Vindictively Prosecuted Charges of tax evasion and money laundering against Ed Rosenthal are dismissed *San Francisco* -- Federal District Court Judge Charles Breyer ruled today that author and medical marijuana activist Edward Rosenthal was vindictively prosecuted, and dismissed charges of tax evasion and money laundering. The remaining marijuana charges against Rosenthal are virtually identical to those pursued against him in his prior 2003 trial. With an admission in court by the U.S. Attorney that it would not seek additional punishment beyond the one-day sentence Rosenthal was given after being convicted at his first trial, the prosecution has little reason to proceed with the case. "We are gratified that the court has recognized the vindictive nature of this prosecution and has reigned in the prosecutor," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel for Americans for Safe Access, and author of the successful vindictive prosecution motion. "The additional charges brought against Rosenthal were clearly in retaliation for his criticism of the government. Taxpayer dollars should not be wasted on a vendetta carried out by a prosecutor against a defendant." Judge Breyer's ruling follows a hearing last week in which the court ordered the government to produce all prosecutorial memoranda explaining the reason for a second prosecution of Rosenthal. The order is the result of a motion to dismiss based on vindictive prosecution filed by Americans for Safe Access and other attorneys with Rosenthal's legal team. The substance of the brief was that the government was retaliating against Rosenthal for his successful appeal and his statements to the press that his first trial was unfair. In his ruling, Judge Breyer asserted that "the government's deeds--and words--create the perception that it added the new charges to make Rosenthal look like a common criminal and thus dissipate the criticism heaped on the government after the first trial," because he criticized the government. "The government was clearly out of line to bring this case forward against me," said Rosenthal. "The court's ruling is reassuring, but my continued prosecution on the marijuana charges is still malicious. To make me and my family go through a second prosecution to obtain, at most, a one-day time served jail sentence seems personally motivated." Rosenthal was recently re-indicted after his 2003 conviction was overturned in April 2006 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. After finding out that medical marijuana evidence had been excluded from the 2003 trial, a majority of the jurors that convicted Rosenthal recanted their verdict. Due at least in part to public outcry, Rosenthal was sentenced to one day in jail. The government was relying on the new charges of tax evasion and money laundering to justify the second prosecution of Rosenthal. The court has now confirmed that Rosenthal's continued prosecution is suspect. "It is a monumental day for justice that the court has recognized the vindictive nature of this prosecution and has dismissed all allegations of financial misconduct," said attorney Robert Amparán, from Rosenthal's legal team. "We feel strongly that the vindictiveness of this prosecution will spill over from the dismissed charges onto the remaining medical marijuana charges and that the jury will ultimately vindicate Mr. Rosenthal." The defense team for Rosenthal includes the following attorneys: Robert Amparán, Shari Greenberger, and Omar Figueroa, with Joe Elford acting as co-counsel for the specific purpose of authoring and arguing the motion to dismiss based on vindictive prosecution. Assistant U.S. Attorney George Bevan stated earlier in a remarkably candid admission that the reason for this second prosecution of Rosenthal is a direct response to "the specific comments that Rosenthal and others made." The prosecutor further admitted in a recent legal filing that it sought out and held its new evidence in abeyance, so it "would be in a position to charge Rosenthal with [additional charges] if the Ninth Circuit reversed his conviction." At Rosenthal's first appearance on new charges, in October 2006, the court remarked, in reference to public comments by the defendant at the time of his 2003 conviction: "[Rosenthal] can say whatever he wants to about the prosecution, and he can say whatever he wants to about the judge. That is his constitutional right." U.S. District Court Ruling on Vindictive Prosecution: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Rosenthal_VP_Ruling.pdf Vindictive prosecution motion: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Rosenthal_Vindictive_Prosecution.pdf Government's opposition: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Rosenthal_Opposition.pdf Rosenthal's reply: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Rosenthal_Reply.pdf For more information on Ed Rosenthal's cases: http://safeaccessnow.org/EdRosenthal
Location: 
CA
United States

Bong Hits 4 Ever

The Washington Post has an important point:

WHAT IS a bong hit 4 Jesus? We're not sure, and we doubt anyone really knows what the phrase means -- which is one reason the Supreme Court ought not to regard it as prohibited speech.

It's true. Prohibiting something you don't understand is the height of ignorance. All attempts to interpret the statement can be dismissed as the desperate fulminations of confused people who demand arbitrary authority to shield themselves from future confusion.

Now that it's been immortalized by the very people who find it objectionable, bong-hits-for-Jesus will probably be with us for quite some time. In the interest of preventing subsequent misunderstandings, I propose that we decide what it means. I vote that we use bong-hits-for-Jesus as a dissmissive retort to anything that doesn’t make sense. For example, if someone's carrying on about something you disagree with or don't understand, you'd reply "bong-hits-for-Jesus, dude."

If we succeed in making BH4J the next WWJD, the censors will surely come to regret ever complaining about it in the first place.

Location: 
United States

Feature: "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Free Speech Case Goes to the Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court Monday heard oral arguments in a case that will determine how much free speech public school students are allowed. On one side is the Juneau, Alaska, school district, national school board associations, former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr and the US government. On the other side is former Juneau student Joseph Frederick, the ACLU, the drug reform organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and a variety of liberal and conservative organizations concerned about restricting the rights of students to voice opinions at odds with school policies.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bong-hits-4-jesus-demonstrators-2.jpg
student demonstrators at Supreme Court
Back in 2002, the Juneau high school let students out of school to watch an Olympic parade pass by. Frederick led a group of students who hoisted a large, nonsensical banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" as the parade passed by. School Principal Deborah Morse tore down the banner and suspended Frederick for 10 days, saying that the banner violated the school's anti-drug policy. Frederick sued, arguing the school's decision violated his First Amendment rights and seeking monetary damages from Morse. He lost in US district court but won on appeal in the US 9th Circuit. With pro bono assistance from Starr, the school district appealed to the Supreme Court.

While on the surface, the case is about a silly banner that may or may not have promoted drug use, it cuts to the heart of the ongoing dispute over the extent of student free speech rights in schools. The high court ruled in a 1969 case, Tinker v. Des Moines School District, that students wearing black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War were protected by the First Amendment, but two later cases have carved out limited exceptions. The current case, Frederick v. Morse, will determine whether the high court is willing to carve out a drug war exception as well.

SSDP was among a number of groups that filed friend of the court briefs supporting Frederick. In a curious alliance that transcended the normal left-right distinction in American politics, those groups included the ACLU and the gay rights Lambda Legal Defense Fund, as well as conservative groups backing religious freedom, such as the Rutherford Institute and the Alliance Defense Fund, who worried that schools would attempt to crack down on religious free speech.

"This is an extremely important case," said SSDP executive director Kris Krane. "What the government and the school district are arguing for is the right of school administrators to punish students who say anything that may be interpreted as expressing a positive sentiment about drugs," he told Drug War Chronicle. "If a student writes a paper about grandma using medical marijuana to successfully ease her pain, that student could be punished. If students were to talk about how random school drug testing policies are ineffective or to question the effectiveness of DARE, they could be punished for that speech."

Oral arguments Monday were lively, with justices subjecting both Starr and Frederick's attorney, Douglas Mertz, to tough questioning. Starr argued that public schools should be able to ban signs, buttons, or speech that conflicts with their anti-drug policies. "Illegal drugs and the glorification of the drug culture are profoundly serious problems for our nation," Starr said as he argued that Frederick's message promoted drugs and was "utterly inconsistent" with the basic educational mission of the school.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/the-censors.jpg
the censors
That provoked Chief Justice John Roberts to worry about how far such an argument could be carried. "The problem is that school boards these days take it upon themselves to broaden their mission well beyond illegal substances," he said.

But on the whole, it appeared Roberts was sympathetic to Starr's argument. "Why is it that the classroom ought to be a forum for political debate simply because the students want to put that on their agenda?" he asked Starr.

With the question coming just after Starr conceded that Tinker "articulates a baseline of political speech" that students have a right to engage in, Roberts' question suggested the chief justice thought Tinker went too far. "Presumably, the teacher's agenda is a little bit different and includes things like teaching Shakespeare or the Pythagorean theorem," he said, adding that "just because political speech is on the student's agenda, I'm not sure that it makes sense to read Tinker so broadly as to include protection of that speech."

Justice Joseph Alito, on the other hand, seemed much more skeptical of the government's case. When deputy solicitor general Edwin Kneedler argued that a school "does not have to tolerate a message that is inconsistent" with its educational mission, Alito objected.

"I find that a very, very disturbing argument," Alito responded, "because schools have defined their educational mission so broadly that they can suppress all sorts of political speech and speech expressing fundamental values of the students under the banner of getting rid of speech that's inconsistent with educational missions."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bong-hits-4-jesus-press-conference-5.jpg
Mary Beth Tinker of Tinker v. Des Moines fame
Starr attempted to address such concerns by arguing for a drug exception to the First Amendment. "The court does not need to go more broadly" than the drug issue, he said. Starr also argued that the banner was "disruptive" of the school's mission. Under the Tinker precedent, speech that is disruptive can be restricted.

But Justice David Souter questioned Starr's argument. "I can understand if they unfurled the banner in a classroom that it would be disruptive," Souter said, "but what did it disrupt on the sidewalk?... It sounds like just a kid's provocative statement to me."

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often a swing vote on the high court, showed much more sympathy for schools' efforts to counter drug use, arguing that Frederick's banner was disruptive. "It was completely disruptive of the message the school wanted to promote and completely disruptive of the school's image that they wanted to portray in sponsoring the Olympics," he said.

When his turn came, Frederick's attorney Douglas Mertz argued that the case is much broader than drugs. "This is a case about free speech. It is not a case about drugs," he said.

"It's a case about money," Chief Justice Roberts interrupted, making reference to school principal Morse's personal liability for monetary damages.

Justice Antonin Scalia sneered at Mertz's argument. "This is a very, very -- with all due respect -- ridiculous line. Where do you get that line from?" For Scalia, even Starr's argument that schools can suppress speech contrary to their educational missions didn't go far enough. "Any school," he proposed, "can suppress speech that advocates violation of the law."

Not all the action at the Supreme Court Monday went on inside. SSDP led a demonstration by students and supporters outside the court that was shown on every cable news network and almost every major newspaper in the country that covered the story -- and most did -- ran photos of the protesters with their stories.

"We flew in high school students from around the country, including two from South Dakota who had been suspended for wearing t-shirts supporting last year's medical marijuana initiatives, in order to demonstrate support for student free speech rights concerning drug policy issues," said SSDP's Krane. "In addition to these students and our local contacts, a number of high schoolers visiting the Supreme Court on field trips joined in the demonstration with us," Krane added.

"We were trying to move the focus from the silly 'Bong Hits' banner to this being a free speech issue," said SSDP's Krane. "We made a large banner that said 'Free Speech 4 Students' and we had students holding up posters saying the same thing. To the extent that the media focused on us, we succeeded better than we had ever imagined."

Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and a member of SSDP's board of directors, told the San Francisco Chronicle's Debra Saunders in a column published Tuesday he believed the Court would "both uphold and reverse" the Ninth Circuit ruling by finding that the suspension violated Frederick's rights but that Morse could not be held personally liable.

An opinion in the case is expected in June.

(Visit our post-rally blog post to see more pictures from the event.)

Border Patrol Agent Gets Caught Stealing Marijuana

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
KOLD News 13 (AZ)
URL: 
http://www.kold.com/Global/story.asp?S=6262610&nav=menu86_2

Crumple Zone: Drug Warriors Push Broad Censorship of Student Speech

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Human Events (DC)
URL: 
http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=19910

Cout Hears 'Bong Hits for Jesus' Case

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/S/SCOTUS_BONG_HITS?SITE=OHRAV&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

"Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner brings duo to D.C.

Location: 
Rapid City, SD
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Rapid City Journal (SD)
URL: 
http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/articles/2007/03/17/news/top/news01.txt

Feds plan to retry marijuana advocate

Location: 
San Francisco, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
San Francisco Chronicle
URL: 
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/17/BABADIGEST32.DTL&hw=marijuana&sn=001&sc=1000

'Bong' Case Tests Students' Free Speech

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
San Francisco Chronicle
URL: 
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/03/16/national/w134358D05.DTL&type=politics

Black guard sues over drug searches

Location: 
PA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
URL: 
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribunereview/news/fayette/s_498084.html

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