Verdict clouds pot picture

June 04, 2007

Sarah Acker, San Francisco Bay Guardian

Medical marijuana activist and author Ed Rosenthal was found guilty of three federal felonies related to the cultivation and distribution of marijuana May 30. He was found not guilty on one other charge, and a deadlocked jury prompted the prosecution to drop a fifth charge. Rosenthal will serve no jail time.

In 2003, Rosenthal was convicted of related charges, but after a jury member learned that the marijuana Rosenthal cultivated was for medicinal purposes — evidence that had been suppressed from court testimony — she recanted her verdict, and a mistrial was declared. Prosecuting attorney George Bevan chose to retry his case against Rosenthal, which, Rosenthal told the Guardian, was a "purely political" maneuver. The US district judge presiding in the case, Charles Breyer, dismissed nine other charges sought by Bevan, including tax evasion and money laundering, calling them "vindictive."

Though Rosenthal has already served his jail time — just one day — he told us that the guilty verdict has larger implications for the medical marijuana movement. He fears the federal government will use this conviction as a green light to take ever more punitive actions against marijuana growers and users, particularly in states like California that have legalized pot for medical uses.

"If [the federal government] can convict in this case, where everything is so black-and-white, they can convict anywhere," Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal had been deputized by the city of Oakland to provide medical marijuana, but he was barred from presenting evidence of his abiding by city and state law in court during both trials.

Bevan declined to comment on his decision to retry the case or the larger implications of the result. Rosenthal vowed to appeal the verdict.



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