Judge to feds: consider dropping `ganja guru' case

March 15, 2007

Josh Richman, ANG Newspapers

A federal judge today gave a prosecutor one month to decide -- and a lecture to guide his way -- whether to continue the government's case against "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal.

Earier this week, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer tossed out money laundering and tax evasion charges -- a huge section of the government's case -- against the 62-year-old former High Times magazine columnist.

The judge said Wednesday that those new charges amounted to vindictive prosecution after an appeals court overturned Rosenthal's 2003 conviction of three marijuana-growing felonies.

On Friday, Breyer granted Assistant U.S. Attorney George Bevan's request for more time to contemplate his response to that ruling: whether to appeal it to a higher court, or proceed on the marijuana cultivation and distribution charges that remain, or to drop the case entirely.

The government already has said it won't seek more than the one-day jail sentence Rosenthal already served for his original conviction should he be convicted anew on the marijuana crimes. Breyer made it clear Friday he'd like to see the case go away, suggesting the government should weigh whether its time and energy, and the court's, is best spent on the trial of a man who already has served his sentence.

Breyer ordered everyone back to court on Friday, April 13 and chuckled at the date's superstitious connotation. "I can't imagine a better day," he said dryly.

"How about 4/20?," Rosenthal quipped. The number "420" is often associated with marijuana use.

Outside the courthouse, the ever-impudent Rosenthal dared Bevan to continue the case, claiming a trial will further expose the government's misconduct and vindictiveness: "It would be foolish of Mr. Bevan not to go forward. ... I urge him to."

His lawyers, however, said they agree with Breyer that it should end now.

Famed for his marijuana cultivation books and the "Ask Ed" column he wrote for High Times, Rosenthal's 2003 convictions came more than a year after federal agents raided his Oakland home, an Oakland warehouse in which he was growing marijuana, and a San Francisco medical marijuana club he supplied.

Medical marijuana use 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 2006, 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.

Prosecutors re-indicted Rosenthal in October, adding charges that he'd laundered marijuana proceeds by buying four money orders totaling $1,854, and that he'd falsified tax returns for 1999, 2000 and 2001 by omitting income from his marijuana distribution.

Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com or (510) 208-6428.



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