Hanging on the precipice of states' rights in the nation's drug war is a
58-year-old San Francisco author known as the "Ganja Guru." And there lying
at the bottom is a shattered Lady Justice, with no middle ground in sight.

Ed Rosenthal is no stranger to controversy. Over the years, he's authored
several books about the benefits of marijuana use and has even testified
before Congress about the need to re-evaluate federal laws that make
growing or smoking marijuana a criminal offense.

Now Rosenthal, who grew marijuana for medicinal purposes, could spend the
rest of his life in prison.

Yet he had the city of Oakland's blessing to grow the cannabis. He had the
voters of California's blessings. He even had the California attorney
general's public acknowledgment that Rosenthal, authorized by Oakland's
city commissioners to grow marijuana solely for the use of seriously ill
patients, has state law on his side.

No matter. Rosenthal has become the obsession of federal prosecutors and a
drug war run amok.

Instead of challenging California's Proposition 215 or the city of
Oakland's ordinance that allowed Rosenthal to grow marijuana as "an officer
of the city," the feds went after the little guy who grew the pot for
city-regulated medical marijuana clubs that sold marijuana to patients
whose doctors had prescribed it.

It was easy to get a conviction for Rosenthal because under legal precedent
he couldn't use the truth as a defense. The Truth.

Incredibly, jurors never heard that Rosenthal had the city's permission to
grow marijuana. They never knew the plants were grown solely for a narrowly
defined purpose: to ease the comfort of very sick people.

The judge simply wouldn't let Rosenthal's lawyers call witnesses who could
explain why Rosenthal was growing more than 3,000 plants in a warehouse.
And a federal appeals court backed the judge because federal law takes
precedence over any local-yokel ordinance.

So jurors convicted Rosenthal earlier this year as if he were your typical
drug kingpin. Most of the jurors did an about-face, though, once the trial
ended and they heard the rest of the story, i.e., The Truth.

Judge Charles R. Breyer (brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer)
denied Rosenthal a new trial last week, writing that there's legal
precedence "since the Civil War" that local laws have no bearing in federal
court.

Does common sense matter at all? Who in their right mind would think
Rosenthal got a fair trial?

The feds have used the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in another Oakland case,
which outlawed the sale of marijuana at a cannabis club, as a way to go
after Rosenthal as if he were a drug pusher selling crack to kids. Yet that
1991 ruling was limited to the club's attempt to use the common-law
medical-necessity defense to sell cannabis. It did not deal directly with
Prop 215, states' rights or Oakland's laws.

The drug war has wasted billions of dollars over the decades, focusing on
the users of a plant that, while certainly not healthy to the lungs and the
body if abused, comes nowhere close to the severe medical effects and
societal chaos that, say, cocaine or heroin can cause.

And the thing is, the federal government doesn't care to know The Truth. It
has refused to evaluate marijuana's ability to help very sick people
suffering from debilitating and deadly diseases, such as AIDS, cancer and
multiple sclerosis. It has shut the door on new studies to find the plant's
medical value.

Yet it's perfectly legal for doctors to prescribe expensive narcotics, such
as oxycodone, to relieve pain, even though there's mounting evidence of its
highly addictive qualities and some patients have died from overdoses.

Any drug can be abused, even over-the-counter drugs. It's their health
benefits that medical professionals weigh against the risks. That's what
California and eight other states focused on when they approved medicinal
use of marijuana to help patients wasting away from AIDS, multiple
sclerosis and other diseases, and to overcome the reactions to chemotherapy
after cancer treatment. Smoking the plant helps very ill people reduce
nausea so they can eat and get stronger.

Keeping jurors in the dark to punish a man who sought to help severely ill
people cope -- now that's criminal.


Pubdate: Thu, 22 May 2003
Source: Orlando Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2003 Orlando Sentinel
Contact: insight@orlandosentinel.com
Website: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/