Advocates say pending bill would end pot-trial confusion
OAKLAND — Supporters of marijuana activist and author Ed Rosenthal, whose felony convictions were overturned Wednesday by a federal appeals court, said Thursday a pending House bill would save the government millions while ensuring nobody else need endure what he and his jurors did.
A "Truth in Trials Act," now before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee, would let federally prosecuted defendants in states with medical-marijuana laws mount an "affirmative defense" — that is, admit they grew or possessed the drug but argue they did so for medical purposes and therefore deserve less or no punishment.
But an earlier version of the same bill, with more than twice as many co-sponsors, died in subcommittee last session.
And given the Food & Drug Administration's finding last week that no proper studies support marijuana's medical use — a finding the drug's advocates say is politically, not scientifically, motivated — the bill seems to have a rough row to hoe this time around, too.
Famed for his marijuana cultivation books and the "Ask Ed" column he wrote for High Times magazine, Rosenthal, now 61, was convicted of three marijuana-growing felonies in 2003, more than a year after federal agents raided sites including his Oakland home, an Oakland warehouse in which he grew marijuana and a San Francisco medical marijuana club he supplied.
Medical use of marijuana on a doctor's recommendation is legal under state law, but federal law prohibits it. Rosenthal was barred from mounting a medical defense at trial. During deliberations, a juror troubled by the idea of convicting Rosenthal consulted a friend who happened to be an attorney, and was advised that she could "get in trouble" for deviating from the judge's instructions. She shared that advice with another juror.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that this tainted the deliberations, compromising Rosenthal's constitutional right to a fair trial and verdict. The court overturned his convictions and remanded the case for a new trial. Prosecutors have not yet decided what to do.
Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy group, helped defend Rosenthal. ASA legal campaign director Kris Hermes said Thursday if Rosenthal's jurors had not felt the wool was being pulled over their eyes by a justice system unwilling to let Rosenthal tell his whole story, the confusion leading to the juror's misconduct would not have existed.
Rosenthal said Thursday the ruling left him "really joyful. It's good not to be a felon, my innocence restored."