Judge Breyer Blinks; Rosenthal Walks

US District Judge Charles Breyer today sentenced Ed Rosenthal to one day in prison on each of three counts, stemming from his conviction earlier this year of supplying medical marijuana under license of the city of Oakland. Breyer also fined him $1,000 and then freed him.

Rosenthal could have gone to prison for up to twenty years. His family and supporters went to US District Court in San Francisco this morning with a best case scenario that Rosenthal would get a medium term sentence and then be freed pending appeal. The one-day sentence was unexpected and shows the political effect of the popular uproar after Rosenthal’s conviction and after six of the jurors publicly apologized to Rosenthal for voting for his conviction after Breyer had prevented them from hearing the full background of the case.

As a member of the liberal elite (and brother of US Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer) Charles Breyer had no particular appetite for intense public opprobrium. Having ensured Rosenthal’s conviction he now walks him and hands the future of California’s medical marijuana law to the US Ninth Circuit, which is already considering the issue.

Breyer will now be applauded for magnanimity, but the federal onslaught on medical marijuana providers without the public reputation of Rosenthal continues. There are plenty of people in prison for far, far longer than a day.

Rosenthal’s appeal will presumably go forward, as part of the fight for states’ rights and the legitimacy of California’s prop 215, which legalized medical marijuana back in 1996. It’s a huge relief for Rosenthal and his family, and CounterPunch is delighted he doesn’t face a stretch in state prison, but we’re only in the foothills of a long-term political struggle.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.