Fed jury slaps `Guru of Ganja' with host of new pot charges

October 11, 2006

Josh Richman, ANG Newspapers

Oakland "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal was re-indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on a host of marijuana-related charges, roughly six months after an appeals court tossed out his earlier convictions.

The superseding indictment filed Thursday contains 25 counts against Rosenthal, 61, and two of his original co-defendants, Kenneth Hayes and Richard Watts.

Rosenthal faces 14 counts including conspiracy, use of a place to manufacture marijuana for distribution, manufacturing marijuana for distribution, laundering money from marijuana sales, and filing false tax returns.

"I knew they had a grand jury but I didn't know what was going to happen," Rosenthal said Thursday night. "What they're trying to do with these indictments and with my continued persecution is to close down all of the dispensaries in California, to deprive people of their medicine."

"It's not the way I planned to spend my time for the next year but I'm resigned to it," he said, describing himself as an "everyman" who won't be cowed. "Most people considering their circumstances for one reason or another are forced to give in under the weight of government pressure. I'm not only standing up for dispensaries but for all these people who've been harassed and hounded by the government."

But he won't let it ruin his life, either. "We're still going out to dinner tonight," he said wryly.

Famed for his marijuana cultivation books and the "Ask Ed" column he wrote for High Times magazine, Rosenthal was convicted of three marijuana-growing felonies in 2003, more than a year after federal agents raided sites including his Oakland home, an Oakland warehouse in which he was growing marijuana, and a San Francisco medical marijuana club he supplied.

Medical use of marijuana on a doctor's recommendation is legal under state law but prohibited by federal law, so Rosenthal was barred from mounting a medical defense at trial. Breyer sentenced him to one day behind bars -- time he'd already served.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his convictions in April, finding juror misconduct -- a juror's conversation with an attorney-friend during deliberations -- compromised Rosenthal's right to a fair verdict and so warranted a new trial. But the court also rejected Rosenthal's claim of immunity from prosecution as an officer of Oakland who grew the drug under the city's medical marijuana ordinance. The court in July refused Rosenthal's requests for rehearing or for an "en banc" rehearing by a larger panel.

He and his lawyers appeared before Breyer in August and September as prosecutors prepared to retry him on the original charges, even as witnesses were being subpoenaed by a grand jury investigating new charges.

Watts was arrested and charged in the same 2002 raids which nabbed Rosenthal, but injuries sustained in a car accident have kept him from trial until now. Hayes fled to Canada to avoid prosecution.

Thursday's indictment essentially claims Rosenthal from October 2001 through February 2002 conspired with Hayes and Watts to grow marijuana at sites on Sixth Street in San Francisco and on Mandela Parkway in Oakland; laundered marijuana proceeds by buying four money orders totaling $1,854 during that time; and falsified tax returns for 1999, 2000 and 2001 by omitting income from his marijuana distribution. Hayes and Watts face similar, related charges.

"With these new more serious charges, I think I'll get even more community support," Rosenthal said Thursday. Citing recent federal raids of Bay Area, Modesto and Granada Hills dispensaries, he said his new indictment is part of "a concerted effort by the federal government" to crack down on medical marijuana.

 

MediaNews reporter Karl Fischer contributed to this report. Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com.




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