Posted on Fri, May. 16, 2003
Federal judge denies convicted pot guru new trial
SAN FRANCISCO - A federal judge on Friday denied self-described "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal a new trial on marijuana cultivation charges amid allegations of jury bias and other claims.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer upholds Rosenthal's highly publicized conviction in February. He now faces spending the rest of his life in prison when he's sentenced June 4. The maximum sentence is 85 years.
Rosenthal, 58, says he was growing medical marijuana under a 1996 law approved by California voters, and was deputized by the city of Oakland to carry out that task. But Breyer, during the trial, prohibited Rosenthal's federal jury from hearing any evidence of that sort, and Rosenthal was painted in the jury's eyes as a major drug supplier growing thousands of marijuana plants.
His prosecution underscored the federal government's position that medical marijuana is illegal, that it has no medical value and that the will of California voters has no affect on federal drug law. In a recent interview, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, however, said Rosenthal's actions were legal under state law.
Rosenthal once wrote the "Ask Ed" column for High Times magazine and has written books with titles including "The Big Book of Buds" and "Ask Ed: Marijuana Law. Don't Get Busted."
Breyer, in upholding his decisions to exclude his medical-marijuana defense, summed up his pretrial rulings in a 27-page opinion Friday.
"Since the Civil War this country has recognized that whatever the views of local governments, such views do not control the enforcement of federal law," Breyer wrote. He added that "many would question the wisdom" of prosecuting "those who furnish medical marijuana."
In a telephone interview from his Oakland home, Rosenthal said he would appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and would ask Breyer to stay his sentence pending a decision from the San Francisco-based appellate court.
Rosenthal, who has been critical of Breyer throughout his prosecution, said Breyer's decision "was not unexpected."
"It didn't fit with his agenda," he added.
After the trial, jurors said although they were not told Rosenthal was growing medical-marijuana, they suspected he was. Many said in interviews they would have acquitted had they known that Oakland city officials sanctioned Rosenthal's growing operation.
Rosenthal also alleged that at least two jurors incorrectly believed they had no choice but to convict him. One juror informed the judge after the trial that she had consulted with an attorney during the trial on whether she could vote for acquittal even though the evidence clearly established Rosenthal violated federal drug manufacturing laws.
That attorney told her she could not vote her conscience, or nullify the verdict. During the trial, that juror informed another juror of that conversation.
Breyer wrote it was "rank speculation" that the two jurors voted to convict on the advice of the juror's attorney.
George Bevan, Rosenthal's prosecutor, declined comment.
The case is United States v. Rosenthal, 02-053.