Free Ed, Free Yr Head

When the Bush administration decided to prosecute marijuana activist and author Ed Rosenthal for growing medical marijuana as an deputized Officer of the City Oakland, the Feds figured they would “make an example” of Ed and try to frighten the whole medical cannabis movement. But, like bungling keystone cops, the whole strategy backfired and ended up making the federal marijuana laws look even stupider than they had looked before.

The DEA was able to get a jury to convict Ed of growing marijuana, but to do so, they had to hide all of the real evidence from the jury. Jurors weren’t told that Ed was growing medical marijuana or that he was doing so at the behest of the City of Oakland. The government took the added precaution of throwing everyone off the jury who reported that they supported California Proposition 215, a ballot measure passed by a large margin that legalized medical marijuana in California.

Almost immediately after the jury rendered their verdict, they realized what a horrible mistake they had made. Days later, 7 of the 12 jurors protested their own verdict and called for a new trial, saying that if they had known the real facts, they would have acquitted Ed. The jurors, some of them shaken and in tears at a protest in front of the San Francisco Federal Building, said they felt they had been lied to and used by the government. The whole thing once again shows the heavy hand of the government and the stupid war on drugs. “There is no such thing as medical marijuana,” Richard Meyer, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, told the Associated Press. Referring to the conflict between state and federal law, He noted, “We’re Americans first, Californians second.”

For anyone on any future jury hearing any kind of marijuana charge in California or any other state with medical marijuana laws, this means you’ll have to assume that the defendant was actually growing medical marijuana, and thus should be acquitted. Since the government is going conceal evidence of medical weed, you can’t take the risk of convicting an innocent person. (Check out the screed on jury nullification, below.)

At the moment, Ed is free on bail, and various appeals are sure to be filed. If his conviction stands, he will be sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 5 years in jail for growing the plants. The fed decision to pick on an isolated individual, rather than taking action against California’s law, is the kind of cruel retribution that seems so popular in these days of war at home and abroad.

While Ed’s case has received extensive media attention, the real story are the hundreds of thousands of people who have been arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned — had their lives turned upside down or ruined — in the government’s failed war against pot. Despite billions of dollars and untold tides of human suffering, it is clearly impossible to stamp out marijuana. Nor does it make sense — at least a third of the country has tried pot, with no obvious ill effects. (Okay, a few hours of stupidity, perhaps, and some laughing at jokes that weren’t funny, but does that really justify a prison term?) A recent poll found that 80 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.

(source: NY Times, Feb. 05, 2003)

Jury Nullification

At the very least, Ed’s case is a good lesson on the role of jury nullification — the power of a jury to go against a judge’s instructions and acquit a defendant if members of the jury decide that the law under which a person is tried is unjust. While the best solution to these problems is to get ride of the DEA, the government, the Courts, etc., until this happens, jury duty provides a great opportunity to impose some “checks and balances” on government authority.

Following are some (liberal based) points about this whole thing taken off the internet that are kind of interesting, even though we by no means endorse the “founding fathers”:

“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution,” said Thomas Jefferson in a 1789 letter to Thomas Paine. His comments presuppose laws which go above and beyond the national charter (such as drug prohibition today) and the jury’s vital role in seeing that no citizens are harmed by such tyrannical legislation.

John Adams, the second American president, sang from the same hymnal. “It is not only [the juror’s] right, but his duty,” he said in 1771, “to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.”

Likewise, in an 1804 libel case, Alexander Hamilton argued that “the jury have an undoubted right to give a general verdict, which decides both law and fact.”

“This distribution of power, by which the court and jury mutually assist, and mutually check each other,” Hamilton continued, “seems to be the safest, and consequently the wisest arrangement, in respect to the trial of crimes. … To judge accurately of motives and intentions, does not require a master’s skill in the science of law. It depends more on a knowledge of the passions, and of the springs of human action, and may be the lot of ordinary experience and sagacity.”

In other words, the people are deemed sensible enough to decide when one of their fellows is getting the shaft from an unjust law. This only makes sense. The people are judged sensible enough to elect legislators in the first place. If things go awry after the ballot box, the jury box provides one more place to check and stop the progress of tyranny by nullifying bad laws passed by those legislators.

Far from viewing nullification as a gateway to random enforcement of law, the founders viewed it as an essential tool for combating despotism and preserving liberty – one more method of denying absolute power to any single man or governing body.

Find out more about the rights and duties of juries at Fully Informed Jury Association —