April 26, 2006

Conviction of “ganja guru” overturned

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on
Wednesday overturned the conviction of "ganja guru" Ed
Rosenthal and ordered a new trial, saying a juror had tainted
the case by seeking the advice of a lawyer before the verdict.

Rosenthal, the author of many books on marijuana, was
sentenced in 2003 to a single day in prison -- the minimum
possible in the case -- after a jury found him guilty of
growing the plant in violation of federal law.

Rosenthal appealed the felony conviction on several
grounds, including that the district court had acted improperly
by not ordering a retrial after one of the jurors asked an
attorney friend about the case.

It was on that point that Rosenthal won the backing of a
three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The district court, upon conducting a hearing into the
matter, concluded that Rosenthal failed to demonstrate
prejudice and denied the motion for a new trial," Judge Betty
Fletcher wrote for the panel.

"We find that the district court applied an overly
burdensome standard of proof and that, under the appropriate
standard of review, prejudice is evident."

Prosecutors had sought a 6-1/2 year sentence in a case that
attracted wide publicity in the San Francisco area where many
people believe that marijuana should be allowed for medicinal

Medical marijuana is voter-approved in California but
barred by federal law.

The judge who sentenced Rosenthal said the one-day prison
term was appropriate because the pot advocate believed its
cultivation for medical purposes was allowed under state law.