Judge Sentences Medical Marijuana Grower $1,300 Fine, One Day in Jail
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer yesterday sentenced medical marijuana grower and advocate Ed Rosenthal to one day in jail -- the shortest possible term -- and issued a $1,300 fine for marijuana cultivation in a decision that strikes a "dramatic blow" against the federal government's case against medical marijuana, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/5). Breyer last month upheld the February conviction of Rosenthal by a federal jury, which found that Rosenthal conspired to grow more than 100 marijuana plants. Under Proposition 215, a ballot measure approved by California voters in 1996 and upheld by the state Supreme Court last July, patients with chronic diseases can use medical marijuana to treat pain. During the trial, Breyer did not allow Rosenthal's lawyers to use Proposition 215 as a defense because he was indicted under federal law, which prohibits the cultivation, distribution or possession of marijuana. Breyer also barred evidence that Rosenthal was deputized by the city of Oakland to distribute medical marijuana to a patients' cooperative (California Healthline, 5/22). In the sentencing, Breyer "brushed aside" a plea from prosecutors for a six-and-a-half-year sentence, citing the "extraordinary circumstances" of the case, and waived the sentence for time already served last year when federal agents arrested Rosenthal, the Los Angeles Times reports (Baily/Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, 6/5). Breyer also put Rosenthal on supervised release -- similar to parole -- for three years (Reed, San Jose Mercury News, 6/5). During that time, Rosenthal is ordered not to violate any criminal laws and to submit to searches (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/5).
Dennis Riordan, an attorney for Rosenthal, said, "We are all delighted with what we view as as fair and just a sentence that could be imposed under the circumstances of Ed having suffered a conviction" (Murphy, New York Times, 6/5). Prosecutors declined to comment and said they are uncertain whether they will appeal Breyer's decision (Sanchez, Washington Post, 6/5). A spokesperson for U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft would not comment on Rosenthal's sentence. However, Tom Riley, a spokesperson for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that the federal government would continue to prosecute marijuana cases, adding that Rosenthal amd other medical marijuana advocates are "cynically using the suffering of sick people to advance their agenda" (Los Angeles Times, 6/5).
KQED's "California Report" today reported on Rosenthal's federal sentencing (Campbell, "California Report," KQED, 6/5). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer. In addition, CBS' "Up to the Minute" yesterday discussed Rosenthal's case, as well as other topics related to the medical use of marijuana, with Steph Sherer of Americans for Safe Access (McDermott, "Up to the Minute," CBS, 6/4). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.
Summaries of opinion pieces and editorials in anticipation of and in reaction to Rosenthal's sentencing appear below:
Las Vegas Journal-Review: Breyer's decision will demonstrate whether he was willing to "run roughshod" over the rights of Rosenthal and the will of California voters, according to a Journal-Review editorial. Federal "drug warriors," who arrested Rosenthal and have "little respect for most of the Constitution" and the laws of California, found "a willing toady" in Breyer, who refused to inform the jury that Rosenthal was deputized by the city of Oakland to produce medical marijuana under Proposition 215, the editorial states. According to the editorial, Breyer "rigged the system to get the outcome he desired." The Review-Journal concludes that Breyer's decision will show whether he "runs this farce into the ground or finally comes to his senses" (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 5/29).
New York Times: Rosenthal's conviction by a California jury in February, in which the jury was made to believe he was a "common drug trafficker," was a "miscarriage of justice," and Breyer may now "be on the verge of compounding the wrong" by sentencing Rosenthal to up to 60 years in prison, according to a Times editorial. The editorial states, "It is a waste of law enforcement resources to prosecute and incarcerate medical marijuana cultivators." Further, it is "particularly wrong" to do so in California, which "has expressly made it legal, after a trial in which the jurors were not told the full story," the editorial states, concluding, "Judge Breyer should not sentence Mr. Rosenthal to prison" (New York Times, 5/31).
Orange County Register: The "extraordinarily light sentence" of Rosenthal is "not quite the complete repudiation of federal policy that some activists would like it to be," as Breyer was "careful to explain that it is still true that under federal law 'a state or municipality cannot legally authorize medical marijuana,'" according to a Register editorial. The editorial states that the case "has the potential to start breaking up the logjam that has kept federal law locked into a stubborn position not only at odds with scientific knowledge but with the clear desires" of the nation. The "real remedy is to change the federal law," the editorial states, adding, "[T]he best course would be for the federal government to 'declare victory' in the unwinnable and socially corrosive drug war and end it" (Orange County Register, 6/5).
San Francisco Chronicle: It is "time for reasonable and compassionate thinking to prevail" in the case against Rosenthal, who has "become the latest and perhaps the biggest casualty so far in a thinly veiled attack on Proposition 215," according to a Chronicle editorial. After one juror wrote to Breyer after learning of all the facts of the case, saying, "It seems like we made a horrible mistake," and Breyer himself agreed to extend Rosenthal's bail by noting "this is an extraordinary case," the editorial says, "Breyer should again consider these complexities, along with Rosenthal's character, when he metes out his sentence." The Chronicle concludes, "It's wrong to imprison Rosenthal. In this case, the letter of the federal law must be weighed against common sense, humanity and the spirit of a voter-approved initiative" (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/2).
- Alexander Cockburn, San Mateo County Times: The state "persecutes marijuana cultivators and suppliers, and at the federal level, is trying to crush a nationwide rebellion by those who not only see marijuana as delightful and benign, but as of proven efficacy as a medicine for those for whom pain is a chronic condition," Cockburn, co-editor of the newsletter CounterPunch, writes in a Times opinion piece. According to Cockburn, Rosenthal is the "most conspicuous victim" of the push to legalize medical marijuana and was targeted by federal agents because of he is a high-profile advocate of legalized marijuana. Cockburn says the "only silver lining" from Rosenthal's conviction is that the "issue of jury discretion, or jury nullification, is on the front burner again" (Cockburn, San Mateo County Times, 5/22).
Santa Rosa Press Democrat: The federal government "should expect more examples" like the lenient sentencing of Rosenthal as long as "it blindly resists efforts to help people who are suffering," according to a Press Democrat editorial. Although federal prosecutors claimed Rosenthal was growing the marijuana for profit, "efforts to undermine medical marijuana laws in California and eight other states leave the federal government without any credibility when it comes to such claims," the editorial says. The editorial states that the federal arrest of patients and caregivers "is both heartless and unpopular -- and detracts from the Justice Department's attention to real threats to public safety," concluding, "Given the Justice Department's obstinacy, this is a just sentence that should send a message to Washington about the need for common-sense rules that provide for people who are ill" (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 6/5).