'Guru of Ganja' wants new trial
June 25, 2007
Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle
Ed Rosenthal, the self-described "Guru of Ganja" convicted for a second time last month of violating federal drug laws by growing marijuana for medical patients, wants a new trial.
The 62-year-old cannabis cultivation expert, former High Times magazine columnist and steadfast advocate for legalizing marijuana claims U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco wrongly prohibited him from telling jurors his goal was helping the sick, not selling drugs.
"The court erred in excluding all evidence regarding the scientific value of medical marijuana," Rosenthal's attorney, Robert Amparan, said in court papers filed earlier this month.
Responding to that motion in papers filed Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Bevan said Rosenthal received a fair trial and the evidence showed the Oakland resident had grown thousands of marijuana plants.
"None of the defendant's allegations have any factual or legal merit," Bevan wrote.
On May 30, after a two-week trial and a day of deliberations, a federal jury convicted Rosenthal of growing marijuana, conspiring to grow and distribute marijuana and maintaining a building for illegal cultivation at the Oakland warehouse where federal agents seized more than 3,700 plants in February 2002.
Jurors acquitted him of maintaining another pot-growing operation at the Harm Reduction Center, a San Francisco medical marijuana dispensary. The panel deadlocked on a fifth charge of conspiracy to grow and distribute marijuana there.
Rosenthal was convicted of similar charges in 2003 but an appeals court overturned the verdict because a juror called a lawyer for advice during deliberations.
The charges normally carry a sentence of at least five years in prison, but Breyer sentenced Rosenthal to just one day in jail -- which he had already served. Breyer said Rosenthal believed he was acting within the law because Oakland had named him its agent in the city's medical marijuana program.
Federal prosecutors tried to file money-laundering and tax evasion charges before Rosenthal's second trial. Breyer did not let them, arguing that the government was retaliating against Rosenthal because of his criticism and successful appeal. Breyer went so far as to suggest that prosecutors drop the case entirely, but prosecutors decided to proceed anyway.
During both trials, Breyer barred evidence that the marijuana Rosenthal grew was intended for medicinal use under Proposition 215, the 1996 state ballot initiative that allows patients to use the drug with their doctor's approval.
The judge also excluded evidence regarding Rosenthal's having been named an official agent of Oakland's municipal medical marijuana program.
Left without a defense, Rosenthal's lawyers did not call any witnesses during the retrial and argued instead that the prosecution's case was tainted by the testimony of some of Rosenthal's former friends and business partners who had been granted leniency.
Chronicle staff writer Bob Egelko contributed to this report.