June 9, 2003
On June 4, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer did a courageous and humane thing: Rather than sentence Ed Rosenthal to federal prison for trying to help people with cancer, AIDS and other disabling illnesses, he let Ed go free -- and let me sleep at night.
I was a juror in Ed Rosenthal's trial. Only after we voted to convict him on federal marijuana cultivation charges did we learn that the marijuana he was growing was for medical use by people who are terribly ill, who are allowed to use medical marijuana under California law and whose doctors had recommended it. We also weren't told that he was authorized to grow the marijuana by the city of Oakland, which didn't want its citizens to have to obtain their medicine from drug dealers.
When Breyer announced the sentence, I began to cry, overwhelmed by a combination of joy, shock and incredible relief. I am glad he had the courage to do the right thing, and that all these months of agony ended relatively happily. But justice shouldn't have to depend on one brave judge. And even though Ed Rosenthal isn't in jail, he is still a convicted felon, for doing something that no rational person would consider a crime.
I was not an activist before the trial, but because of this experience I have taken a much greater interest in the issue. I very nearly sent a man to prison for decades because critical information was kept from me and my fellow jurors. Ed's prosecution and trial was a pointless, cruel waste that should never be allowed to happen again.
I have been a registered nurse for 27 years. I am also a breast cancer survivor, with a number of friends who have also battled this terrible disease. I know the horrible nausea and misery chemotherapy can cause, and I've seen marijuana help people when nothing else worked.
I have seen commonly used prescription medications cause life-threatening reactions. And yet our government labels those drugs as "safe" while jailing people who use marijuana. I didn't know that much about the federal law against medical marijuana before, but I do now.
Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., have introduced a bill to end the federal gag order that kept Ed Rosenthal and his attorneys from telling us the essential facts of his case. It would let juries hear the whole story and allow jurors to acquit medical marijuana defendants who are following the laws of their states.
Breyer's courageous action showed that he knows the law needs to be fixed. It is time for Congress to fix it, and put a stop to our government's cruel war on the sick.
Pam Klarkowski, a registered nurse who lives in Petaluma, Calif., served as a juror in the trial of Ed Rosenthal.