Medical Marijuana Activist Convicted in Federal Court: Jury Not Allowed to Hear Evidence of Medicinal Use 5/28/99

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Operating out of a playbook that is fast becoming their strategy of choice, federal prosecutors have once again run an end-around, disregarding the will of California's voters and elected officials by charging and prosecuting B.E. Smith, a medical marijuana user and activist, in federal court. Smith, who was growing marijuana with the explicit knowledge of the local sheriff's office, was not allowed to present any evidence of the medicinal nature of his use, and now faces up to 10 years in federal prison for "manufacturing" marijuana.

Smith, who did two tours of duty in Vietnam, uses marijuana to combat the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that had previously driven him to alcohol abuse. Since beginning to use marijuana, Smith has ceased using alcohol entirely.

Smith is one of a growing list of medical marijuana activists targeted by the federal government since medicinal use was legalized (under state law) by California voters in 1996. Steve Kubby, former Libertarian candidate for governor, Peter McWilliams, a best selling author, Todd McCormick and the proprietors of various buyers' clubs throughout the state are all facing federal charges as well.

Barred by District Court Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. from presenting any evidence regarding his medical condition or his use of marijuana to treat himself, Mr. Smith's defense was limited entirely to character witnesses. One of these was actor/activist Woody Harrelson. Harrelson drew the ire of Judge Burrell when he mentioned Smith's medicinal use on the stand, in response to a question as to whether he was surprised to see Mr. Smith standing trial. Prosecutors' objection to the question was sustained, but Harrelson responded anyway, saying, "Certainly, for a medical marijuana case, I consider it odd."

In response to Harrelson's remark, the judge warned him to obey the rulings from the bench. Harrelson replied, "I'm just wondering why you're keeping the truth from the jury." At that point, Judge Garland immediately sent the jury from the courtroom, after which he lectured Harrelson on a judge's legal right to control the proceedings. "I didn't think you had much respect for the law" retorted Harrelson.

At that point, Judge Garland refused to allow further direct testimony by Harrelson, and excused him from the stand. "How do you sleep at night?," Harrelson asked the judge, as he stepped down.

Todd McCormick, who is also facing federal charges, and for whom Harrelson has posted $500,000 bond, told The Week Online that Smith's case fits a pattern of strong-arm tactics by the federal government in dealing with medical marijuana activists in California.

"B.E. Smith had permission from his local sheriff's office to grow marijuana. He wasn't being covert. The federal government, having lost and lost badly at the polls, has decided to put its boot on the throats of medical marijuana activists. How can a judge rule that Smith's reasons for growing the marijuana are irrelevant for a jury to hear?"

McCormick continued, "The federal government is engaged in a campaign of intimidation, not only of activists but of every Californian who uses marijuana medicinally, their doctors and caregivers. They have systematically and blatantly ignored the will of California voters. And where is Bill Lockyer, our new Attorney General? When he was elected, he made it clear that he intended to protect California's sick and dying against the tyranny of the federal government, but as soon as the feds threatened to arrest him, he tiptoed away from the issue with his tail between his legs. In so doing, he essentially gave the feds the green light to step up their prosecutions. So much for integrity."

Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Attorney General Lockyer, told The Week Online that their office is attempting to resolve the conflict with federal authorities in a way that will be most effective.

"If the Attorney General of a state is going to take on the federal government in an area where there is a conflict between state and federal law, he's going to lose every time, hands down," he said. "What we have in California, frankly, is a poorly-written initiative that gives no direction to how the law is supposed to work, and a lot of people running around making it up as they go along. As long as the federal government is set on enforcing federal law, there's nothing that anyone can do about it."

"John Lockyer, as the Attorney General of California," he continued, "took an oath to uphold the law. He has been in contact with the Attorney General (Reno) and the Drug Czar, and they are aware of the problem that we're facing here. The response that the Attorney General has received from those offices would have to be characterized as very positive. We believe that a strategy of taking on the feds at every turn on this issue would be extremely counterproductive and could set the process back by years."

Smith's attorneys plan to appeal his conviction.

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Issue #92, 5/28/99 Thanks, and Another Special Offer Through June 30 | Medical Marijuana Activist Convicted in Federal Court: Jury Not Allowed to Hear Evidence of Medicinal Use | Four Guards Charged in Beating Death of Nassau County Inmate | Senate Juvenile Justice Bill Passes in Wake of Colorado School Shooting, Would Dramatically Increase Surveillance and Drug Testing | New York Assembly Speaker Says No to Rockefeller Drug Law Reform...Or Does He? | Policy Change May Allow for Non-Government Funded Medical Marijuana Research | Conviction of Juror in Nullification Case Overturned | New York: No Rockefeller Reform This Year, Presentations in Westchester Area by Reconsider | Editorial: Growing Pains
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