Story by Trina Robbins
SAN FRANCISCO—The federal government’s efforts to put the big chill into the medical-marijuana community by trying Ed Rosenthal for pot cultivation have resulted in making the 58-year-old father of two the most cared-about man in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Seven of the 12 jurors who convicted Rosenthal have called for a new trial, angry that the court had withheld evidence that he had been growing marijuana for medical purposes, legal under California law, and had been deputized by the city of Oakland to grow it for local patients.
On the streets of San Francisco, the most common sentiments expressed were similar feelings of outrage. “I don’t think there’s any justice in it,” said retired mental-health worker Eileen Granich, 68. “How could they have kept that information out of the trial? Doesn’t the federal government have anything better to do with their time?”
“I hope they take it to the Supreme Court,” said Katherine Powell, a semi-retired copy editor and proofreader. “If he [Rosenthal] goes to jail for this, it’s just a total miscarriage of justice.”
Rob Cahow, a 38-year-old book buyer, agreed. “I would think he should certainly have a new trial.” Cahow also commented on the waste of money: “Inevitably medical marijuana is going to be legalized on a federal level, and in the meantime the federal government is spending all this money on [persecuting medical pot growers].”
“I think it’s a travesty of justice,” added Fly, a visiting artist from New York. “It’s symbolic of the way the country’s working these days. They won’t give you the information you need in order to make proper decisions, like they won’t give you enough information about the war in Iraq.”
Freda, a 52-year-old bookstore employee, criticized the federal government for interfering with state laws. (Federal law, which says marijuana has no valid medical use, supersedes state law, and that was the legal rationale for denying testimony about medical marijuana at Rosenthal’s trial.) Dylan Jones, 24, owner of an entertainment firm, agreed: “We voted on state laws, but we need to vote on federal laws.”
Jesse James Burke, a security volunteer at the Church Street Harm Reduction medical-marijuana club, believes there will be a retrial: “When [the federal government] put a gag on the information, they made a big mistake. A jury needs to hear what this person is going to jail for.” Burke, who suffers from hepatitis C and arthritis, attests, “What I get here is better than the drugs they give me in the hospital.”
So, will there be a retrial? It’s a possibility, thinks Rosenthal’s attorney, Robert Eye: “We do think there are grounds that the court could properly order a new trial,” he said in a phone interview. But, “Procedurally, the next item on the agenda would be a resolution to dismiss [the case] based on errors made in front of the grand jury.”
Ed Rosenthal holds no grudge against the jurors. “They were good citizens, doing the best they could, “ he says, “once they learned the truth, they were so upset!” A reluctant hero—“I didn’t volunteer for this. I always thought I would play a part in [marijuana-law reform], but I didn’t realize it would be a central part”—he says, he remains optimistic.
“This [case] is like a tarball,” he says, “And everybody who’s touched by it—the jurors, the prosecuting attorney—they’re all glommed onto it, and there’s this big brick wall that’s marijuana prohibition, and the ball is rolling towards it and is gonna knock it down.”