New York Times - Editorial/Ok-Ed,
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 control. 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.