U.S. should arrest pain, not people who relieve it

February 18, 2003

Opinion - San Jose Mercury News,

CALIFORNIANS want marijuana available for use as a medication, but that won't happen until the federal government is forced to stop prosecuting individual residents who provide the drug to the sick and dying. Federal agents are rounding up those working at the behest of local government to provide the herb to victims of cancer, AIDs, and other debilitating diseases. The feds want to make a political statement about illicit drugs. The providers want to bring low-cost relief to those crippled by pain and robbed of appetite. Californians who have watched disease attack the bodies and spirits of loved ones care less about politics and more about treatment. That's why state voters enacted a law allowing marijuana to be distributed as a painkiller and hunger-stimulant for patients under a doctor's care. If federal authorities now want a fight, at least make it a fair fight. This month's conviction of Ed Rosenthal represents the third recent case of selective federal prosecution related to medical marijuana. In June, Rosenthal will be sentenced to prison -- up to four decades -- for dispensing marijuana as an agent of the City of Oakland. Rosenthal will pay a steep price, but so will the people he tried to help: Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends -- people in real pain. Federal prosecutors are passing up hard-core drug dealers and addicts to hunt down people like Rosenthal. That's why San Jose's police chief took a stand last year and pulled out of a federal drug task force. Bill Lansdowne chooses to focus instead on the illegal drug-trade that causes violence, community decay and addicted youth. The Bush Administration, on the other hand, is circumventing California law by making sure these pot prosecutions take place in federal courts where the term medicinal marijuana has so far been banned -- as evidence and motive. The jury that convicted Rosenthal was not allowed to hear from his defense team as to why he grew marijuana, or who received it. After learning the facts, several jurors angrily denounced the justice system for turning them into puppets. Some things can be done. • Federal judges in states with medicinal marijuana laws should recognize the will of residents by using discretion and allowing the term ``medical marijuana'' and circumstances to be presented in court. • Juries should always be instructed about their constitutional right to nullify verdicts when the facts of a case are not disputed -- which happens with most medicinal marijuana cases -- and when they feel a law is being unjustly applied. • Finally, local governments, not individuals, should take on the role of dispensing this substance.

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