Freed medical pot advocate is indicted again
October 12, 2006
Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle
Marijuana advocate Ed Rosenthal, who successfully appealed his federal convictions for growing plants for a San Francisco medical marijuana club, was indicted again Thursday on an expanded set of charges, including filing false tax returns and money laundering.
The 2003 trial of Rosenthal, the "Ask Ed" columnist of High Times magazine and an authority on marijuana cultivation, drew national attention and ended in a one-day prison sentence, a disavowal of the guilty verdicts by a majority of the jury, and an eventual reversal this April. An appeals court said a juror who had qualms about the case committed misconduct by phoning an attorney friend for advice.
In the new grand jury indictment, Rosenthal, 61, of Oakland, was charged with 14 felonies, including conspiracy to manufacture marijuana at his Oakland warehouse and distribute it to the Harm Reduction Center, a San Francisco dispensary, between 2000 and 2002.
Those were similar to the charges in a 2002 indictment. The new charges include four counts of laundering money -- four transactions totaling about $1,850 -- to conceal its source as the proceeds of marijuana sales, and five counts of filing tax returns that failed to list his marijuana income.
Rosenthal, reached at home, said the indictment was part of the federal government's campaign to shut down medical marijuana clubs.
"What they're trying to show is that they can close down anybody, a legitimate club, a legitimate provider who's sanctioned by the city," he said, referring to his official status as an agent in Oakland's medical marijuana program. "They're trying to stop patients from getting their medicine."
Rosenthal and his previous co-defendants, Kenneth Hayes of Petaluma and Richard Watts of San Francisco, were ordered to court for arraignment on the new charges Monday. Hayes remains a fugitive, however. Rosenthal said Watts was too ill for trial previously, but he faces trial on the current charges.
At Rosenthal's 2003 trial, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer refused to let jurors learn about the intended medical use of the plants and excluded evidence about Proposition 215, California's 1996 medical marijuana initiative.
After a majority of the jurors repudiated their guilty verdicts and urged leniency, Breyer sentenced Rosenthal to the one day in jail he had already served instead of five years in prison, saying Rosenthal had believed he was acting legally at a time when the law was unsettled.
E-mail Bob Egelko at email@example.com.