The Wrong Target for 'War on Drugs'
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Copyright: 2003 San Francisco Chronicle - Page A - 16
Contact: [email protected]
When Ed Rosenthal agreed to grow Oakland's medical marijuana -- in compliance with city law and with the blessing of local officials -- he had no idea he was about to become the target of federal authorities who would try to send him to prison.
But in a trial now under way in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the 58-year-old Rosenthal has become a focal point for the federal government's "war on drugs." He is charged with felony marijuana cultivation and conspiracy, which could bring him 10 years-to-life imprisonment if convicted.
Last February, federal agents raided a warehouse near Jack London Square, confiscating 3,163 marijuana plants and arresting Rosenthal for allegedly growing the plants and selling them to medical marijuana clubs.
Rosenthal had been deputized by the city of Oakland as "an officer" in the city's program to distribute medical marijuana. Proposition 215, passed by California voters in Nov. 1996, was designed to allow patients -- with a doctor's approval -- to grow and use marijuana to, among other things, relieve the effects of cancer, AIDS and glaucoma.
The trouble is, despite substantial anecdotal evidence, the federal government never has recognized the medicinal potential of marijuana. Drug Enforcement Administration official Asa Hutchinson points out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not approve "medicine by popular referendum. " He made that comment in response to a letter by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer calling for "a proper sense of balance, proportion and respect for states' rights."
One of the few federally commissioned studies on medical marijuana, by the Institute of Medicine in 1999, found pot to be helpful for many patients when other medications don't work. The report called for clinical trials and concluded, "there is no clear alternative for people suffering from chronic conditions that might be relieved by smoking marijuana."
Admittedly, Proposition 215 had serious shortcomings. Its passage was driven by a wave of compassion and common sense, its legal flaws notwithstanding. It granted patients the right to use medical marijuana without offering any legal protection for the people who would grow and distribute it. California's measure, along with those in eight other states and various city ordinances, has never been reconciled with federal law.
So local governments are left to sort out the legal contradictions.
The war on drugs should not be about Rosenthal. He represents one city's noble effort to distribute medical marijuana in a controlled, responsible way. Without Rosenthal, many patients would be forced to turn to dealers in the streets, enriching the enterprises that should be the real focus of a war on drugs.
Related Articles & Web Sites:
Americans For Safe Access
Ed Rosenthal's Trial Pictures & Articles
Judge Decides Not To Gag Marijuana Trial
Clash on Medical Marijuana Puts a Grower in Court
The Trial of Ed Rosenthal