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November 27, 2006

Parsing the Costa Conviction

As noted earlier, on November 22, a Federal jury in Fresno voted unanimously, and with almost no discussion, to follow the judge's instructions to convict Dustin Costa of growing marijuana under circumstances that leave him liable to a twenty year sentence that could easily add up to life for a sixty year old diabetic. I had seen Dustin for his last two medical recommendations in '03 and '04 and was closely associated with his efforts to establish the Merced Patient Group throughout '04 and '05. I had also written to him throughout his federal incarceration from August '05 on, and was one of only two defense witnesses called at his trial last week.

Thus I think I have a more informed position on his case than most; yet what I actually know for sure is both fragmentary and speculative; primarily because  both the federal government and their nominal opponents in reform have been less forthcoming than they might have been and both sides also clearly know far less about the phenomenon of cannabis use than they think they do. For the moment, the feds have momentum and seem ready to plunge ahead with a  series of show trials in Fresno intended to discourage legal distribution under California's 10 year old initiative. Meanwhile, most of the movement's political supporters still haven't acknowledged the huge setback represented by the Raich decision in June of 2005.

The characteristic emerging most clearly in this short recitation is that the issue of medical marijuana is much more complicated than most people assume; yet it's one that's still being argued on the same simplistic grounds that dominated 'debate' during the run-up to the 1996 election. That's probably as good a sign as any that neither side has learned much in ten years. The tragedy is that my practice confirms that those applying for recommendations possess key information about how (and why) an enormous criminal market has developed around cannabis (marijuana) under the noses of the same bureaucrats who have been directing our lavishly funded drug war for forty years.

That evidence, in the form of the aggregated medical histories of applicants hoping to take advantage of the proposition, also clearly indicts the drug war as an unscientific fraud; however, only if one hasn't first been beguiled by the same scare tactics found at the root of all prohibition policy. In other words, the same uninformed 'thinking' about 'addiction' which led the Holmes Supreme Court to convert the Harrison Act into de facto drug prohibition between 1917 and 1919 is alive and well; not only within the federal government, but also within the drug policy reform movement, where it seems to have become an item of faith for a majority.

That's a lot of complex heresy to digest, so I'll leave it right here until tomorrow, when I'll explain why all was not lost with the Costa verdict; which, although tough on Dustin for the foreseeable future, may actually have been the best possible outcome in the long run.

Certainly, old fashioned jury nullification doesn't seem to have been remotely possible, for the simple reason that his jury definitely knew it was a medical marijuana case and still voted speedily to convict.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at November 27, 2006 02:35 AM