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February 06, 2007

  American Justice

On Super Bowl Sunday, my wife and I drove down to Fresno for the sentencing of my friend Dustin Costa, shamefully victimized by our federal government when subjected to a double-jeopardy federal arrest in August, 2005 for exactly the same charges of growing medical cannabis he was then defending himself against at the state level.  The unprecedented second arrest was carried out soon after the June '05 Raich decision that bore little discernible relationship to the key point those filing the case had hoped to establish: the legitimacy of Proposition 215. In their wisdom, the Supremes, whose individual comments documented how little they understand the issues, left the two laws standing in opposition; but gave a key enforcement boost to those favoring federal supremacy.

Too bad the sponsors of Raich neglected to frame their challenge in a way that might have also forced a review of the witless MTA. That omission allowed the Supremes to pretend that the Constitutional issue was simply the legitimacy of the Interstate Commerece clause, and not the practice of Medicine by unqualified federal bureaucrats.

Better yet if they had simply left well enough alone; their implicit assumption that Supreme Court Justices are both wise and above politics proved naive in the extreme. Thus much of the ground painfully gained during the erratic nine year evolution of Proposition 215 within California was lost through an unwise legal gambit.  There is no doubt  the thriving illegal cannabis market in California will survive, but growing and distribution for medical use have become far more problematic and the public is more confused than ever.

In essence, Costa's sentencing proved every bit as grotesque as his federal arrest and truncated trial following 15 months of punitive incarceration in the Fresno County Jail. The same judge, Anthony Ishii, who had made a series of rulings recognizing a dubious search and keeping the jury from hearing the most important details of the case,  then presided over a truncated trial in November. He completed his farcical judicial hat-trick yesterday by sentencing Costa to near the maximum requested by a relentlessly malevolent prosecution.

When Costa was led in to be sentenced in the same chains that had been objected to and removed during his trial, I had a sense of what Ishii's long awaited sentence would be. Thus I wasn't surprised when, after listening impassively to a series of articulate pleas for leniency, he dithered incomprehensibly for what seemed like an eternity before agreeing with the prosecution on all but one minor point.

Compare that with Ed Rosenthal's sentence of time served. Thus, a 60 year old diabetic, who is clearly not a criminal, and arguably thought he was in compliance with a state initiative left standing by both the California and US Supreme Courts, was sentenced to thirteen years in federal prison for the 'crime' of challenging a policy that has been failing egregiously for nearly four decades. The judge's voice, which had been hesitant and uncertain while considering the various confusing alternatives open to him,  strengthened noticeably  as soon as he began reading the prolonged, formulaic sentence specifying details Costa will have to comply with, if still alive, after thirteen years of federal imprisonment.

Perhaps as balm for his conscience, Ishii also punted to the Ninth Circuit. In the words of ASA's  Kris Hermes: 'Judge Ishii, however, also commented that, because Costa was caught between conflicting state and federal laws, he would make special note of these circumstances for the purpose of his appeal. Costa fully intends to file an appeal and will likely seek release on bail pending that appeal.'

Thus does 'reform' seek to make a silk purse from a sow's ear.  I, for one, am nearly as disgusted by their dishonest timidity as by the feds' dishonest arrogance.

 A pox on both.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at February 6, 2007 05:01 PM