US Magistrate Judge Peter A. Nowinski last week sentenced Oakland Cannabis Coop founder Jeff Jones to three months in prison for jury tampering, but in a surprise move reversed himself on Monday, instead fining Jones nearly $4,000 and sentencing him to three years of unsupervised probation. Jones had been charged for attempting to give literature to jurors in the federal marijuana prosecution of medical marijuana provider Bryan Epis. The verboten material explained that Epis was operating within California law, a defense federal judges have consistently refused to let juries hear. Epis is currently serving a 10-year sentence as a marijuana trafficker in federal prison.
Nowinski, who told the court last week he had been angered by Jones' activities, had a chance to calm down and reflect since then. "I have given this matter a great deal of thought over the weekend," Nowinski said Monday. "I had a heavy criminal calendar last month and saw nearly one thousand defendants; Mr. Jones is not a candidate to share a bunk with any one of them."
Noting that he had encountered medical marijuana protesters with flyers on his way to court that morning, Nowinski added that, "Passions are very high on this issue -- frankly, way too high." He then revealed that both he and US District Judge Frank Damrell had that morning received threatening letters containing an unidentified white powder. Although the powder later turned out to be harmless, the announcement rattled nerves among those present.
"We are incredibly impressed with Magistrate Judge Nowinski for his ability to reverse himself, especially in light of the threat he received today. What a principled act," said Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org) health policy director Glenn Backes. "We're shocked [at the threatening letters], and we hope our friends in law enforcement find whoever did this and find them fast. This is a terrible reminder to all of us -- no matter what side of the medical marijuana issue we're on -- that police should be allowed to focus on real threats to our safety."
"I am relieved by today's ruling, but not surprised. The sentence was extreme and unjust," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (http://www.safeaccessnow.org), an umbrella group organized to defend medical marijuana patients and providers through protests and direct actions. "I don't think this will be the last we hear on this topic. By preventing medical marijuana patients and caregivers from defending themselves, the federal government is creating a new crime, a crime of necessity. The voters of California are being faced with an unbelievable injustice in their courts."
As for Jones, he pronounced himself, "utterly speechless when the judge started talking. I think the judge realized that he had let his anger get the best of him. He saw the error in his decision."
See http://www.drcnet.org/wol/276.html#jeffjones for last week's story on the original sentence.