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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

New Law Would Clean Up Marijuana Trials

WASHINGTON - November 18 - US Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), joined by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jim Jeffords (I-VT), have introduced the first-ever Senate bill to ensure that federal juries hear the full story when medical marijuana patients and providers, operating legally under state law, are tried on federal marijuana charges.

S. 2989 is similar to H.R. 1717, the "Truth in Trials Act," introduced by a bipartisan House coalition last year and inspired in part by the case of Ed Rosenthal. In January 2003, Rosenthal was found guilty of felony marijuana cultivation charges by a jury that was not allowed to consider that the marijuana was for medical use by seriously ill patients and was grown with the authorization of the city of Oakland, California.

When they learned the truth, jurors who convicted Rosenthal publicly repudiated their own verdict and apologized to him, feeling they had been duped into convicting an innocent man. "I helped send a man to prison who does not belong there," juror Marney Craig wrote in a column for the San Jose Mercury News. Newspaper editorial boards nationwide, including The New York Times and Baltimore's The Sun, condemned the verdict, using terms like "mean-spirited" and "cruel."

In his statement introducing the legislation, Durbin noted, "This is a narrowly-tailored bill ... Under this legislation, defendants in the ten states with medicinal marijuana laws could be found not guilty of violating federal law if their actions are done in compliance with state law."

Because federal law does not recognize any medical use of marijuana, defendants have been barred from raising the issue in their defense. "As it stands today, federal law denies medical marijuana defendants a basic right that every other defendant has, the right to explain what they did to the jury," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., "If you shoot someone, you are allowed to explain why you did it, but if you're a disabled patient growing marijuana to relieve your pain and suffering, you can't. Jurors who could imprison someone for decades have a right to hear the whole truth, not a censored version that is stripped of facts the federal government doesn't like."

On Nov. 29, the US Supreme Court will hear Ashcroft v. Raich, which could limit federal authority to enforce federal marijuana laws against intrastate, noncommercial medical marijuana activities.

With more than 17,000 members and 150,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. For more information, please visit MarijuanaPolicy.org.

 

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