First Federal Medical Marijuana Trial in 3 Years Starts Tomorrow

SAN DIEGO—The first federal trial of a medical marijuana patient since the high-profile 2003 conviction of author Ed Rosenthal starts in district court in Fresno tomorrow.

The federal charges were brought against Dustin Costa, 60, a leading medical cannabis activist and former Marine, only after 18 months of state court proceedings made it clear to local prosecutors that California’s medical cannabis law would provide him a defense.

“California state officials are obligated to protect medical cannabis users,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the national advocacy group. “Turning over cannabis patients and caregivers to federal courts, where they have no defense at all, violates the local DA’s duty to uphold state law.”

The original state marijuana cultivation charges stemmed from a March 2004 cultivation arrest by Merced County Sheriffs that resulted from a raid on the greenhouse Mr. Costa maintained on behalf of the patients in his collective. Since being re-arrested by federal agents on August 10, 2005, Mr. Costa has been held in Fresno at a federal detention center. He is now facing federal charges of cultivation, possession with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm.

In federal court, Mr. Costa -- who was the head of the Merced Patients Group, a non-profit collective he formed based on legal advice -- will be allowed to present no evidence about his medical condition or anything to do with his compliance with state law. This is the same situation that led to the conviction of Mr. Rosenthal and the subsequent revolt of the jurors, once they found out he was growing for patients.

If convicted on all counts, Mr. Costa faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

WHO:     Medical cannabis patient and caregiver Dustin Costa

WHAT:   First federal medical marijuana trial since Ed Rosenthal in 2003

WHEN:   Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 9:00 am

WHERE: Courtroom of Judge Anthony W. Ishii, U.S. District Court, 2500 Tulare Street, Fresno, California

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With more than 30,000 active members with chapters and affiliates in more than 40 states, Americans for Safe Access is the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic uses and research.