Acquittal and Conviction but No Jail Time for Ed Rosenthal

Oakland, CA -- For those who have not yet heard about the Rosenthal Federal trial, Ed Rosenthal was found guilty of three federal felonies related to the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. On the charges related to the Harm Reduction Center, a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco, the jury found Rosenthal not guilty of cultivation and distribution and deadlocked on a conspiracy count, which was subsequently dismissed by the prosecution.

Rosenthal, a medical marijuana provider and prolific writer, was raided and arrested by Federal agents in February 2002.  After the February 2003 trial, several jurors discovered that evidence was withheld, and subsequently denounced their verdict. In the midst of a highly charged political climate, in June 2003, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer sentenced Rosenthal to a single day in prison, time served.

Despite no compelling reason to re-try Rosenthal, the federal prosecutor pursued another trial and added tax evasion and money laundering to the charges.

While the three federal felony convictions are greatly troubling, there have been victories that should be recognized. For instance, after ASA filed a motion accusing the government of vindictive prosecution, Judge Breyer threw out most of the charges against Rosenthal.

Another small, but important victory came during jury selection, when the vast majority of the prospective jurors said they had an opinion on medical marijuana and had clearly been educated on the matter.  Yet, consistent with federal rules that omit any reference to medical marijuana, Judge Breyer instructed the jury that a medical defense would not apply to the case and that this defense would not be presented.

Perhaps the strongest victory for patients, providers and advocates came near the end of the trial. As the prosecution ended its case, it called seven witnesses that it considered “recalcitrant” because of their refusal to testify against Rosenthal. Yet, it was because of their collective steadfast refusal to cooperate, that even after being charged with civil contempt, they were all excused without having to testify and without having to serve any jail time.

Finally, it is important to note that a federal jury acquitted Rosenthal on one count of cultivation and distribution and was hung on the count of conspiracy. Though this may seem minor, given the convictions, it is the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich that a federal jury has found a cultivator and distributor of medical marijuana not guilty.  This acquittal is a significant victory in itself, which shows that a jury is capable of seeing through the government’s deceit.

The lack of truth in medical marijuana trials stands as the principal reason for the conviction of Rosenthal, illustrating that the government is still willing to turn a blind eye to the medical properties of marijuana and the hundreds of thousands that benefit from its use. That said, it is important to look at this case and the victories that came with it as a reason to continue the fight for safe access and patients’ rights.  Ed Rosenthal's sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 6 at 2:15pm at San Francisco federal court.