Guilty Verdict in First Federal Medical Marijuana Trial in 3 Years

FRESNO -- A jury took less than a day to find a medical cannabis patient guilty of violating federal marijuana laws. Dustin Costa, 60, a prominent medical cannabis activist and former Marine, was found guilty of manufacture of marijuana, possession of marijuana for distribution, and possession of a firearm. Mr. Costa's sentencing date has not been set, but he could face in excess of 20 years in prison. Mr. Costa indicated he will appeal his conviction to the Ninth Circuit Court. The federal charges were brought against Mr. Costa 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.

"The conviction of another medical cannabis patient is a senseless tragedy for all involved," said Steph Sherer, executive director of the medical cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. "Imprisoning patients is an injustice, and shameful when done against the will of the vast majority of U.S. citizens that support the medical use of marijuana."

Because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, patients like Costa cannot mention the phrase "medical marijuana," let alone provide a medical defense in federal court. This was the first federal trial of a medical cannabis patient since the high-profile 2003 conviction of author Ed Rosenthal. In the Rosenthal case, the jury repudiated their verdict once they learned he was helping patients under state law.

The original state marijuana cultivation charges against Mr. Costa, president of the Merced Patients Group, stemmed from a March 2004 arrest by Merced County Sheriffs following a raid on the greenhouse he maintained. Since being re-arrested by federal agents on August 10, 2005, Mr. Costa has been held in Fresno County jail.

Mr. Costa represents the first of nearly a hundred patients and providers expected to go to trial on arrests that have occurred since Gonzales v. Raich. More than 90 patients and providers have been arrested and nearly as many currently await trial in federal court.

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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.