Jury left in dark at marijuana trial

February 02, 2003

MICHAEL COIT, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT ,

North Bay residents made up nearly half of the jury that found a marijuana advocate guilty in a high-profile federal medical marijuana trial -- and several are angry about the outcome. Jurors said pot grower Ed Rosenthal never had a chance with U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer blocking defense attempts to show Rosenthal was growing marijuana for dispensaries and clubs serving seriously ill people. The only evidence left was that Rosenthal was guilty of conspiring to grow more than 100 plants. Rosenthal might have been acquitted, jurors said, if the judge had allowed the defense to show he was officially working for Oakland under the city's medical marijuana evidence. 'If we'd known he was hired by the city, I would have said this guy didn't deserve any of this,' said Pamela Klarkowski, a Petaluma nurse on the jury. 'I feel used. It's horrible. We didn't get the whole picture.' Charles Sackett, the jury foreman, said many jurors were frustrated that they faithfully followed the judge's instructions only to learn after the trial that they weren't given any evidence about why Rosenthal was growing the marijuana. 'It's ironic. The public probably knew much more about this case than we did,' said Sackett, a Sebastopol landscape contractor. 'The reason some of the jurors have been so angry is because we weren't given all of the evidence. The evidence allowed just tilted the outcome of the case to the point where the outcome was a done deal from the beginning.' Federal law does not allow marijuana cultivation for medical uses, and the judge prevented Rosenthal's lawyers from using the state's medical marijuana law as a defense. Richard Meyer, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said after Friday's verdict in San Francisco, 'There is no such thing as medical marijuana.' Of the jury's 12 members, four were from Sonoma County and one of the two alternates was from the North Bay, Sackett said. The number of North Bay jurors surprised those on the panel given the region's strong support for Proposition 215, the medical marijuana initiative California voters approved in 1996. Those interviewed Sunday said they voted in favor of the proposition, but set aside their beliefs, as the judge instructed, to hear the trial and reach a verdict. What bothered some was that something obviously was missing and that turned out to be any evidence about medical marijuana. 'It was like a kangaroo court. It's like we were just following orders,' said Marney Craig, a Novato property manager on the jury. 'I'm horrified and dismayed that I wasn't strong enough to stop it.' In the trial's aftermath, jurors said they are learning the concept of deciding on a verdict regardless of the law in a case, which is known as juror nullification. Some said they might have voted for acquittal and perhaps forced a mistrial had they known more about the concept. 'What we may have said is there's something more to this. I cannot in good conscience make a decision on this ... we don't have enough information,' Klarkowski said. 'It's obvious there were several of us that had doubts about what we were doing,' Craig said. With Rosenthal facing a minimum five-year sentence, Sackett said the case doesn't bode well for other medical marijuana growers facing federal charges. 'States' rights got thrown out. Patients' rights got thrown out. Some of us are really questioning the process and the letter of the law,' he said. Rosenthal supporters demonstrated outside the courthouse daily and handed out fliers explaining jurors' options. Medical marijuana advocates said juror nullification could be an issue in future federal trials for people growing pot for people with medical needs. Several cases against Sonoma County medical marijuana growers are pending in federal court in San Francisco, and advocates fear more arrests will be made by federal agents. The federal prosecutions have followed publicized battles between then-Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullins and medical marijuana advocates over guidelines for growing pot for patients. In May 2001, after losing two high-profile cases brought under state law that ended with acquittals, Mullins and the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chief's Association adopted guidelines drafted with the Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana. The guidelines allow patients with physician approval to grow or possess up to three pounds with up to 99 plants. 'It goes all out the window when you go down to federal court in San Francisco. It means nothing,' said the alliance's Kumari Sivadas.

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