Medical Marijuana: Blind Injustice
Pubdate: Thu, 06 Feb 2003
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2003 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Marney Craig
MEDICAL MARIJUANA: BLIND INJUSTICE
Judge's Instructions and Withholding of Critical Facts Led Jurors to Convict
Last week, I did something so profoundly wrong that it will haunt me for the
rest of my life. I helped send a man to prison who does not belong there.
As jurors, we followed the law exactly as it was explained to us by Judge
Charles Breyer. We played our part in the criminal justice system precisely
as instructed. But the verdict we reached -- the only verdict those
instructions allowed us to reach -- was wrong. It was cruel, inhumane and
As a result, Ed Rosenthal will spend years in federal prison, separated from
his wife and daughter, for doing nothing more than trying to help the sick.
There is no doubt that Rosenthal was growing marijuana. Though there was
some dispute as to the number of plants, the defense never claimed that
marijuana wasn't being grown.
But Rosenthal's attorneys were not allowed to tell us the critical facts: He
grew marijuana for use by people suffering from cancer, AIDS and other
horrible diseases whose physicians had recommended it. He acted with the
knowledge and active encouragement of his local government, under a policy
overwhelmingly endorsed by the citizens of his community, because city and
county officials believed that patients who need medical marijuana should
not have to buy it from street dealers.
But Judge Breyer barred us from considering why Rosenthal was growing the
marijuana. ``The purpose for which the marijuana was grown is not a defense
and is irrelevant,'' he said.
This is insane. A person accused of shooting his neighbor is allowed to
explain why he did it, and motivation is often central to guilt or
innocence: Did he act out of cruelty and malice, or did he shoot in
self-defense, or to protect others? No one would dream of preventing an
accused killer from explaining why he killed.
All Ed Rosenthal did was grow some plants, but he wasn't allowed to tell us
Some shreds of information did slip through, enough that most of us
suspected that medical use was somehow involved. But Judge Breyer firmly
told us we had to ignore even those tiny scraps of information, and as good
citizens, we obeyed.
Even more tellingly, he instructed us, ``You cannot substitute your sense of
justice, whatever that is, for your duty to follow the law.''
That was the trial in a nutshell. Justice was barred from Judge Breyer's
courtroom, and a man whom no rational society would consider a criminal will
go to federal prison.
The central irrationality is the federal law that decrees, as Drug
Enforcement Administration spokesman Richard Meyer told reporters, ``There
is no such thing as medical marijuana.'' Medically, that's nonsense. No less
than the New England Journal of Medicine -- considered the world's most
authoritative medical journal -- has called for an end to the federal ban on
medical marijuana, calling it ``misguided, heavy-handed and inhumane.''
Ever since the verdict, we have sat awake nights, anguished at the injustice
we participated in and angry at ourselves for failing to follow our
consciences and vote to acquit. We hope Judge Breyer and the prosecutor
share at least a little of that anguish at the cruel charade they conducted.
But mostly we hope that Congress and the president will act quickly to end
the federal ban on medical marijuana. No jury should ever again have to
choose between the law and justice.
Marney Craig, a property manager in Novato, served as a juror in the trial
of Ed Rosenthal, who was convicted Jan. 31 of growing marijuana.
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