Rosenthal Verdict Fallout: Angry Jurors, Media Attention, a New Bill in Congress 2/21/03

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The conviction of marijuana cultivation guru Ed Rosenthal on marijuana manufacture charges on January 31 may have been a pyhrric victory for the US government. The two weeks since a federal jury wearing court-ordered blinders convicted Rosenthal, who was growing medical marijuana within California guidelines and with the express approval of the Oakland City Council, have seen those same jurors react furiously to the deception to which they were subjected, continuing mass media attention, and the formulation of a new bill soon to be introduced in the US Congress which would provide an effective defense for medical marijuana providers arrested under US anti-marijuana laws.

Almost as soon as they walked out of the federal courthouse in San Francisco following the verdict, jurors were stunned and angered to discover that they had convicted a man deputized by the city of Oakland to provide medical marijuana to sick patients. Some of those jurors reacted with public outrage and a repudiation of the verdict they delivered. And in an unprecedented move, many of them stood in solidarity with the man they had just convicted.

"I feel like I made the biggest mistake in my life," juror Marney Craig said at a joint news conference with Rosenthal the next day. "We convicted a man who is not a criminal. It's the most horrible mistake I've ever made in my entire life. The city of Oakland attempted to give him immunity and he operated under that assumption," Craig said. "Ed Rosenthal is not a criminal; he should never have been convicted. He needs a jury that is allowed to hear all the evidence."

At that same event, jury foreman Charles Sackett said he hoped Rosenthal's guilty verdict is overturned on appeal. "Some of us jurors are upset about the way the trial was conducted... I would have liked to have been given the opportunity to decide with all the evidence," he said. Sackett then read aloud a letter of apology to Rosenthal and his family.

Two more of the six rebellious jurors who denounced the verdict also spoke at the news conference. Kimberly Sulsar called the affair "truly disheartening and shameful," while juror Pamela Klarkowski said she was "absolutely appalled" upon realizing she had voted to convict Rosenthal without knowing all the facts in the case.

Those jurors have continued to speak out, to both local and national media, and have been joined by an avalanche of outrage from Rosenthal supporters, California officials and activists that continues to this day. The Media Awareness Project (http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/) archive of drug policy-related news currently lists more than 80 news stories devoted to the Rosenthal verdict and its aftermath, and that does not include television and web-only reports. Even the staid New York Times weighed in with an editorial criticizing the persecution of medical marijuana providers and concluding that "the administration should stop tyrannizing doctors and sick people."

The verdict has also sparked a new round of activist organizing by groups such as Americans for Safe Access (http://www.safeaccessnow.org) in more than a hundred cities across California and the nation. This Tuesday saw "Evict the DEA" protests in dozens of cities as part of ASA's broader Medical Marijuana Week organizing project.

And the Rosenthal verdict has inspired three California members of Congress, Reps. Sam Farr (D-Carmel), Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), to draft legislation designed to blunt the impact of the federal war on medical marijuana in the states. The bipartisan legislation would create two categories of marijuana under federal law -- criminal and medical. Under the draft legislation, growers who can prove they grow their product for medical use only would be able to use that fact as a valid defense in a federal trial.

"In states such as California, which has a medical marijuana statute allowing for its growth and distribution, growers are still subject to raid, arrest and prosecution from federal agencies," said Farr at a news conference Thursday announcing the draft legislation. "We have seen this happen time and time again. These federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department have no respect for the laws we here in California have established to allow patients to live pain-free lives. The purpose of this bill is to allow defendants in federal criminal trials to introduce evidence that their marijuana-related activity was performed for a valid medical purpose under state law. If a jury finds that a defendant was following state medical marijuana law, then the defendant should not be sent to prison. It's as simple as that," he said.

The bill has been endorsed by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who has been criticized in the past for tepid support of the state's medical marijuana laws. "I support Congressman Farr's bipartisan effort to change federal law so that all the facts would be before a jury," he said after attending the event. "I think many people are offended by the lack of due process associated with the Rosenthal conviction. It seems to me to be just fundamental fairness to allow his Proposition 215 defense to have been presented to the jury," Lockyer said.

While even the proposed bill's supporters concede it will be an uphill battle to win passage in the current conservative climate, they vowed to fight the good fight. When formally introduced, the Farr-Woolsey-Rohrabacher bill will be the only medical marijuana bill on Congress' plate. Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank (D) filed a bill in 2001 which would reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, allowing it to be prescribed under federal law, but that bill failed to gain any traction in Congress. Frank has not yet re-filed the bill this session.

The federal government may have won the battle, but with a few more victories like the Rosenthal verdict, it could face open rebellion in California and the eight other states that provide for medical marijuana. And while the feds would love to see Rosenthal behind bars for at least the next 10 years, even that isn't a done deal yet. He remains free on bail and is seeking a new trial or a reversal of the verdict on appeal.

Reports on the Rosenthal Verdict:

Connie Chung on CNN:
http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0302/06/cct.00.html

Dan Forbes on Manipulation of the Grand Jury, for DrugWar.com:
http://www.drugwar.com/forbesrosenthal.shtm

Ann Harrison on Jurors' Anger and Call for New Trial, on Alternet:
http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=15105

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Issue #275, 2/21/03 Out from the Shadows: First Latin American Anti-Prohibition Summit Convenes in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico | Mérida Interview: María Mercedes Moreno of Mama Coca | Mérida Interview: Luiz Paulo Guanabara, Brazil, Executive Director of Psico-Tropicus | Rosenthal Verdict Fallout: Angry Jurors, Media Attention, a New Bill in Congress | Victory for Bolivian Coca-Growers Imminent, Reports Say Government Will Allow Coca in the Chapare | Thailand War on Drugs Turns Murderous, 600 Killed This Month -- Human Rights Groups Denounce Death Squads, Executions | Peoria Needle Lady Busted in Pekin, But Charges Later Dropped | Drug Czar's Office Masks TRUE Costs of War on Drugs in Federal Budget | Newsbrief: DEA Kills 14-Year-Old Girl in San Antonio, Claims Self Defense | Newsbrief: US Spooks Killed, Captured in Colombia | Newsbrief: French Cannabis Activist Faces Jail for "Encouraging Drug Use" | Newsbrief: Corrupt Cop of the Week I | Newsbrief: Corrupt Cop of the Week II | Newsbrief: Oklahoma Report Urges Sanity in Sentencing | DC Job Opportunity at DRCNet -- Campus Coordinator | The Reformer's Calendar
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