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Sonoma County judge offers support at Sebastopol fund-raiser for Rosenthal April 7, 2003
By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SEBASTOPOL -- Laws against marijuana are "on their way out," pot author, advocate and convicted cultivator Ed Rosenthal told a sympathetic crowd of about 80 people at a fund-raiser Sunday night in Sebastopol.
Sonoma County Judge Elliot Daum spoke in support of Rosenthal at the event, along with two doctors who advocate the medicinal use of marijuana. Taking public stands on political issues is unusual among local jurists.
"I found, quite frankly, the prosecution of Ed Rosenthal to be obscene," said Daum, the first public defender ever elected judge in Sonoma County.
"I wish Ed luck in the future with this," he added later.
Daum took personal credit for returning marijuana to local users who were found to be using the drug in keeping with an agreement between pot advocates and the county District Attorney's Office.
Rosenthal, wearing a black shirt with green marijuana leaves, railed against President Bush's religious beliefs, the war in Iraq, and the slumping economy -- sometimes pounding the lectern -- before addressing the case that has made him an international celebrity.
Rosenthal, 58, an Oakland book publisher who is married and has two children, faces up to 40 years in prison on federal pot cultivation charges.
His case has become the crux of a legal and political debate over the conflict between California's Proposition 215, the medicinal pot measure approved by voters in 1996, and federal law, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2001, which does not recognize marijuana as medicine.
Seven Sonoma County men who, like Rosenthal, were growing marijuana for medicinal use have been arrested, charged or sentenced in federal prosecutions.
Five jurors in Rosenthal's case, including jury foreman Charles Sackett of Sebastopol, issued a public apology a week after they convicted him on Jan. 31 and demanded the judge grant him a new trial.
Rosenthal's lawyers filed a motion last week alleging juror misconduct as grounds for a new trial. That motion will be considered Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, whom Rosenthal lampooned Sunday night despite warnings that Breyer probably will be the sentencing judge.
"With Breyer as judge, it was sort of redundant to have a prosecutor," Rosenthal told the crowd at the Sebastopol Veterans Memorial Building.
In a joking mood, Rosenthal disputed doctors' contentions that no serious negative side effects have been documented from the medicinal use of pot. "Marijuana does cause hysteria in people opposed to its use," he said.
The event was a "joint benefit," fliers said, for Rosenthal's legal defense fund, called Green Aid, and the Town Hall Coalition, an Occidental-based environmental group.
Rosenthal, who is free on $500,000 bail, said his legal expenses already exceed $200,000, although his lawyers are not pressing him for payment.
Toben Dilworth, program manager of the coalition, said the group, which normally focuses on land-use issues, decided to sponsor Rosenthal's appearance out of concern for government "assaults on civil liberties."
The medical pot issue became "personal," Dilworth said, when coalition members found marijuana helpful in enduring chemotherapy treatments for cancer.