SAN FRANCISCO - Marijuana celebrity Ed Rosenthal walked free from a
federal courtroom Wednesday after a judge handed him a one-day prison
sentence on a federal marijuana conviction that could have brought him
decades behind bars.

A crowd of marijuana supporters cheered loudly in court, spilling
gleefully into a hallway that smelled faintly of weed. Assistant U.S.
Attorney George Bevan shook his head in dismay.

Rosenthal, 58, has already served the time. He shouted defiance and
said he would appeal his conviction.

"(The judge) did me no favors. He did marijuana no favors. What he did
was make me a felon!" said the self-proclaimed "Guru of Ganja," joined
by his wife and 12-year-old daughter. "All marijuana should be legal!
.. These laws are doomed!"

The case drew national focus on the clash between federal laws that
ban medical marijuana and states that have approved use of medicinal
marijuana or eased penalties.

Rosenthal, an Oakland author of marijuana books, said he was growing
more than 1,000 small plants for medical marijuana clubs under the
auspices of an Oakland city ordinance. He claimed he was a sworn
"officer" of the city, shielded from a federal ban on medical
marijuana by a statute designed to protect him from undercover
narcotics officers.

Prosecutors portrayed him as a major drug operative, and U.S. District
Judge Charles Breyer refused to let jurors hear testimony on the
state's 1996 voter-approved medicinal marijuana law. Rosenthal was
convicted on three federal counts for cultivating marijuana.

Nine jurors came to his side, saying they felt duped and pleading for
leniency. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer also asked Breyer
to impose a light sentence.

On Wednesday, Breyer insisted that cities cannot support medical
marijuana operations under federal law. But he acknowledged the
"extraordinary" nature of the case, and said Rosenthal held a
reasonable belief that what he was doing was legal.

Prosecutors had asked Breyer for a 63- to 78-month prison term under
federal minimum sentencing laws. Instead, the judge invoked a rarely
used "safety valve" mechanism to reach the one-day sentence.

Matthew Jacobs, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in San
Francisco, declined to comment on the sentence and said a decision had
not been made on whether to appeal it.

Rosenthal also was fined $1,300 and placed on three years probation,
during which he cannot be around controlled substances. He refused to
say whether he would abide by that condition.

A cheering throng of supporters hailed Breyer's decision, calling it a
spark in a national campaign to legalize medical marijuana. "Light 'em
up!" one man shouted.

"It's about as good as it can get," said Judith Appel of the Drug
Policy Alliance, an advocacy group. "The judge really offered an
amazing recognition of a humanitarian basis for providing medical
marijuana to patients."

San Francisco District Attorney Terrance Hallinan, a longtime
supporter of medical marijuana who sat in the courtroom, said he hoped
the verdict sends a clear message to federal drug officials "to take
another look and give a little more respect" to California and eight
other states that have passed medical pot laws.

Robert MacCoun, a professor of law and public policy at UC Berkeley,
said he doubted the case would dissuade federal drug enforcers, unless
Rosenthal wins his appeal.

"It's one judge, and clearly the purpose of this was never to get
(Rosenthal) off the streets to make America safe. The purpose was to
discourage states from implementing medical marijuana laws," said
MacCoun, an expert on drug policies.

"The fact it was only one day is not going to aid and comfort medical
and marijuana service providers who are going to worry about getting

Pubdate: Thu, 05 Jun 2003
Source: Contra Costa Times (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Knight Ridder