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. Through the years, he's
authored several books about the benefits of marijuana use and has
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 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, which 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.

Jurors never heard that Rosenthal had the city's permission to grow
marijuana. They never knew the plants were grown solely to ease the
comfort of sick people.

The judge 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 though he were a
typical drug kingpin. Most of the jurors did an about-face once the
trial ended and they heard the rest of the story, i.e., The Truth.

Judge Charles R. 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.

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 though he were 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 Proposition 215, states' rights or Oakland's laws.

The drug war has wasted billions of dollars, focusing on the users of
a plant that, while not healthy to 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 sick
people suffering from debilitating and fatal diseases, such as AIDS,
cancer and multiple sclerosis. It has shut the door on new studies to
find the plant's medical value.

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 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: Sat, 24 May 2003
Source: Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC)
Copyright: 2003 Sun Publishing Co.
Contact: opinions@thesunnews.com
Website: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/mld/sunnews/