Re-trial of `Ganja Guru' begins

May 14, 2007

Josh Richman, ANG Newspaper

Ed Rosenthal grew and sold thousands of marijuana plants in Oakland over five and a half years in violation of federal law, a prosecutor told jurors today as the "Guru of Ganja's" retrial began.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Bevan even specified that the marijuana was supplied to "so-called marijuana clubs throughout the Bay Area" -- a reference to medical marijuana organizations where patients obtained the drug for use as permitted under state law, but unprotected under federal law.

What the jury wasn't told is that this retrial -- lasting three to four weeks, with dozens of witnesses' testimony and reams of evidence -- is in some ways a formality.

For, even if Rosenthal is convicted of all five counts of which he's accused two conspiracy counts; two counts of using a specific place to grow marijuana; and one count of manufacturing, possessing with intent to distribute, and distributing marijuana -- he'll not be sentenced to anything more than the one day of jail he already served after his original, 2003 convictions, later overturned by an appeals court.

Instead, the government apparently hopes only to leave Rosenthal with a felony record -- which would stiffen future penalties should he ever be charged again -- and to chalk up a win after five years of pursuing the case.

Bevan told jurors -- eight women and four men, plus two female alternates -- they'll see evidence that about 3,100 plants were seized from Rosenthal's Mandela Parkway building in February 2002, as well as about 2,600 "clone" clippings; about 700 more plants were seized from the Harm Reduction Center on San Francisco's Sixth Street, which Rosenthal supplied and later allegedly helped with its own growing operation.

Shari Lynn Greenberger, one of Rosenthal's attorneys, began by telling jurors "the reason why we are here today is because this is an attempt by the federal government to censor Mr. Rosenthal;" Bevan objected, and U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer sustained the objection.

Greenberger said Rosenthal is "a scientist" who "has earned a reputation of international prominence;" again Bevan objected, and Breyer told jurors they can't consider what motivated the government to bring charges, only whether the government can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that crimes were committed.

Greenberger then set about discrediting Bevan's witnesses as "convicted felons, liars, drug addicts and thieves" with whom the government cut sweet immunity or leniency deals in exchange for testimony.

For example, she said, James Halloran -- with whom Rosenthal ran the Oakland growing operation for some time -- is a convicted felon and recovering heroin addict who had $50,000 in cash, a .22-caliber pistol, a shotgun and more than 4,000 marijuana plants in his possession when raided by federal agents in 2002. He faced 50 years to life behind bars, but in return for his testimony served only home detention with electronic monitoring, she said, adding Bevan even helped him get a real-estate license and end his federal probation early.

Bevan objected, saying this was a misstatement of the facts; Breyer said jurors will hear the facts during the trial and decide for themselves.

Greenberger said the witness Bob Martin's testimony will demonstrate "the outrageousness and hypocrisy of the federal government." This drew a rebuke from Breyer, who deemed it improper argument. Continuing, she said Martin continued operating two medical-marijuana clubs -- neither of which have been raided -- while preparing to testify in this case, and was granted immunity from prosecution for thousands of marijuana plants seized in 2004 from his Sonoma County property.

Rosenthal, on the other hand, has "devoted his career to marijuana advocacy and reform," writing books and serving as an expert witness in court, she said: "As you can imagine, his testimony for the defense on medical cannabis did not endear him to the federal government."

And neither he nor his wife and publisher, Jane Klein, have criminal records, she added.

Famed for his marijuana-cultivation books and the "Ask Ed" column he wrote for High Times magazine, Rosenthal was convicted in 2003 of three marijuana-growing felonies. 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 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. But Breyer in March tossed out those new charges, deeming them to be vindictive prosecution.

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



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