February 5, 2003

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  Dazed and confused
What does Ed Rosenthal's guilty verdict mean for San Francisco's plans to grow and distribute medical marijuana?

By Ann Harrison

San Francisco city officials say they have no immediate plan for protecting medical cannabis growers like Ed Rosenthal, who was convicted Jan. 31 on federal marijuana cultivation and conspiracy charges.

Rosenthal, who is free on a $200,000 bond until his sentencing June 4, plans to ask the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a new trial. In his court proceedings, he was prevented from telling the jury he was growing marijuana for patients under California's Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215). U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer blocked Oakland officials from testifying that Rosenthal had been deputized as a city employee in an effort to immunize him from prosecution. He instructed jurors that federal law prohibits growing marijuana without exception, despite Prop. 215. "I was not allowed to tell my story," Rosenthal said. "If the jury had been allowed to hear the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I would have been acquitted."

Rosenthal's attorney, Bill Simpich, is calling on California cities and counties to continue immunizing medical cannabis caregivers, since Breyer's ruling pertains only to the cases in front of him.

Does San Francisco have a strategy for shielding medical cannabis dispensaries and growers from an expected wave of new federal prosecutions? "I think it's too early to answer that question," Board of Supervisors president Matt Gonzalez replied. Gonzalez said city officials are still meeting to discuss the issue as directed by Proposition S, which passed in 2002 and instructs officials to explore a city-run marijuana distribution program. "We are at that place where we are going to hopefully start having larger meetings and bring in some of the other supervisors who will likely be interested in the issue."

Drug Enforcement Agency spokesperson Richard Meyer has made it clear that San Francisco city employees involved in growing or distributing medical marijuana will be subject to arrest and property forfeiture. Simpich noted that Prop. 215 passed by 78 percent in San Francisco. But he said officials are dragging their feet because there is not yet enough political pressure on them to take on the feds. "The single biggest thing that hurt us is in the case is that we did not have the cities of San Francisco and Oakland by our side," Simpich said. "They were not there, and if they had been there, we would have won. They made a mistake, and the time to correct it is now."

P.S.: Six jurors who convicted Rosenthal are expected to appear with him at a joint press conference this week to denounce the verdict. Juror Marney Craig said she and other jurors were appalled to discover that Rosenthal had been asked by Oakland to grow medical cannabis for critically ill patients. "What happened was a travesty," Craig said. "The more information we get, the more we realize how manipulated and controlled the whole situation was, and that we were pawns in this much larger game. As residents, we voted to legalize medical marijuana, and now we are forced to sit here and not take any of this into consideration?" To make a donation to Rosenthal's legal-defense fund, go to www.green-aid.com.