Oakland pot club director gets 3-month prison term

February 27, 2003

Josh Richmond, Oakland Tribune,

Federal judge rejects probation in sentencing Jeff Jones for handing out leaflets Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative executive director Jeff Jones, one of the California medical marijuana movement's most respected figures, was sentenced Thursday to 90 days behind bars for handing out leaflets near a courthouse. U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter A. Nowinski of Sacramento apparently ignored a report recommending probation, instead ordering Jones, 28, into federal custody for the misdemeanor. He will start serving his time Monday. "I plan on commencing a hunger strike as soon as I'm taken into custody," Jones said later Thursday. "This is political -- this has nothing to do with the rule of law." Jones' attorney, Michael B. Bigelow of Sacramento, said he "can't recall ever having seen a judge as apparently angry as he was, and for the life of me I don't understand why. I think everybody involved in the case -- probation, the U.S. Attorney's office, assorted staff -- pretty much assumed that the magistrate would follow the probation officer's recom- mendation." Jones was arrested outside Sacramento's federal courthouse last June 24, the day jurors were being selected to try Bryan Epis of Chico. Epis later was convicted of growing marijuana and now is serving a 10-year sentence. Jones and other activists that day handed out a leaflet giving Epis' side of the story: his belief that California's 1996 medical marijuana law -- Proposition 215 -- protected him, even though federal law still bans marijuana completely. When U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell found some potential jurors had received the leaflets, he agreed with prosecutors that the whole panel of potential jurors had been tainted and dismissed them all. Jones' conviction During a five-hour trial in December, Jones told Nowinski he had neither authored the leaflet nor brought it to the courthouse that day, but acknowledged he neither read it closely nor understood its impact before handing it out. Nowinski convicted Jones of influencing a juror by writing, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison. A probation report, noting Jones' acceptance of responsibility and remorse, advised he be placed on supervised probation until paying restitution for the cost of seating a new jury panel. Nowinski on Thursday ordered Jones to pay $3,924.93 in restitution -- and also ordered him jailed. "The feeling of the judge ... was that I had no remorse, that I was thumbing my nose at the court and all I cared about was myself," Jones said. "If I only cared about myself, I wouldn't have shown up at court for Bryan Epis." It was unclear Thursday whether Jones can surrender himself Monday in Oakland or if he must do so in Sacramento. Steph Sherer, director of the medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access, said activists will stage a protest either way. Medical pot's 'poster boy' Under Jones' direction, the Oakland cooperative provided marijuana to card-carrying members with physicians' recommendations. City officials in 1998 brought the group under a city ordinance's protection, but in a legal battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government won an injunction halting its marijuana dispensation. Meanwhile, the young, earnest, clean-cut Jones became a poster boy for the medical marijuana movement, with none of the baggage some earlier and more controversial figures carried. "Jeff has been a backbone for Oakland and for the Bay Area, and his work has really pushed the envelope of implementing Proposition 215," Sherer said. "His political work with the city ... has definitely been a model for the rest of the state."

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