Ganja Guru Back in Federal Court Again

May 14, 2007

Marcus Wohlsen, Associated Press

Ganja guru Ed Rosenthal returned to court Tuesday for opening arguments in a case federal prosecutors are retrying even though the pot advocate will face no prison time if convicted of growing marijuana.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Bevan told jurors that Rosenthal, 62, grew and distributed thousands of plants out of an Oakland warehouse to supply Bay Area medical marijuana dispensaries.

A lawyer for Rosenthal argued that her client was a prominent scientist, author and marijuana reform advocate who was being targeted by prosecutors over his support for medical marijuana.

"This is an attempt by the U.S. government - by the federal government - to censor Mr. Rosenthal," defense attorney Shari Lynn Greenberger said.

Rosenthal's case has drawn attention as a symbolic battle between federal and state authorities over medical marijuana, which California voters legalized in a 1996 referendum but the federal government still considers illegal.

Rosenthal was convicted of running the Oakland operation in 2003, but the conviction was thrown out last year because a juror committed misconduct by consulting a lawyer on how to decide the case.

Before Rosenthal's conviction was tossed, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer sentenced him to just one day in prison, saying Rosenthal reasonably believed he was growing the plants for a city medical marijuana program.

Breyer urged prosecutors last month to drop the case against Rosenthal, who cannot be sentenced to prison again after an appeals court upheld the one-day sentence he had already served.

Outside court, Rosenthal mocked the prosecution for trying him on charges for which he had already served his time.

"Sort of like Alice in Wonderland," Rosenthal said. "Off with his head, and then the trial."

Prosecutors charged Rosenthal with money laundering and tax fraud along with the marijuana counts when they re-indicted him in October. But Breyer dismissed the non-marijuana charges last month, saying they were part of a "vindictive prosecution" against Rosenthal for complaining that the government treated him unfairly.

In his opening argument, Bevan did not mention that Rosenthal won't face jail time for the charges. The prosecutor stuck to a strict recitation of evidence about the growing operation.

Prosecutors interrupted Greenberger several times during her remarks over critical comments about the motives of the government and its key witnesses. She accused prosecutors of relying on the testimony of criminals and drug addicts who she said were testifying in exchange for immunity.

Greenberger showed jurors several books - including "The Big Book of Buds" and "Ask Ed: Marijuana Law. Don't Get Busted" - that Rosenthal wrote during his more than three decades of advocacy. She also presented them with a bottle of "Zero Tolerance," which she described as a natural pesticide developed by Rosenthal for marijuana cultivation.

In jury selection Monday, nearly two-thirds of prospective jurors were dismissed after saying they could not be impartial in a trial involving marijuana.

Among them was ousted Sharper Image Corp. CEO Richard Thalheimer, who told the court he believed the case was "an unfortunate scapegoating" of Rosenthal for political reasons.

"I think it's tremendously unfortunate that my time is being wasted and our taxpayers' money is being wasted," Thalheimer said, according to a court transcript.


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