Medical Marijuana Billboard Campaign Launched; Demands “Compassion, Not Federal Prison” For Medicinal Cannabis Patients

Campaign Coincides With Federal Pot Trial Of Noted Marijuana Author Ed Rosenthal, Increasing Federal Crackdown On State Medi-Pot Providers And Patients

Oakland, CA:  A coalition of drug law reform organizations, including California NORML, launched a statewide billboard campaign this week publicizing the federal government’s recent crackdown on California medical marijuana patients and their providers.

The 30 billboards, which began appearing Wednesday in San Francisco and across the state, feature the eight-year-old daughter of Bryan Epis – a northern California medical marijuana provider recently sentenced to ten years in federal prison for marijuana cultivation.  Because Epis’ prosecution was in federal court, he was unable to raise any arguments pertaining to his medical use of marijuana or California’s state law allowing qualified patients to legally possess and cultivate medicinal cannabis.

The billboards read: “Medical marijuana; compassion, not federal prison,” and features Epis’ daughter holding a sign stating, “My dad is not a criminal.”

In the past year and a half, federal drug enforcement officials have taken action against more than 35 medicinal marijuana patients, cooperatives and providers in California – including Steve McWilliams, co-director of San Diego’s Shelter From the Storm medical marijuana dispensary, and noted marijuana author Ed Rosenthal.

Rosenthal’s federal trial began this week in the US District Court in San Francisco.  Although Rosenthal was legally designated by Oakland’s City Council to grow and provide medical cannabis in compliance with state and local laws, District Judge Charles Breyer has forbidden any testimony pertaining to either medical marijuana or California’s Prop. 215 because federal law doesn’t acknowledge pot has medical value.  “I’ve ruled that the purpose for which the marijuana was grown is not a defense and is irrelevant,” Breyer announced Tuesday.  “That may be what the law should say, but that’s not what the law does say.  I’m not Congress.  I’m not the FDA (Food and Drug Administration.)  You cannot introduce that evidence to the jury.”

If convicted on federal marijuana cultivation and conspiracy charges, Rosenthal, 58, could face as many as 20 years in prison.

Likewise, McWilliams could face a mandatory five-year minimum sentence if convicted on federal marijuana charges.  Justice Department officials are prosecuting McWilliams – who possesses a doctor’s recommendation to use medical pot, and had worked closely with local officials to draft citywide medical marijuana guidelines – for maintaining a 20-plant garden in his home.  McWilliams could face the mandatory based on additional evidence presented to the federal grand jury that he previously grew marijuana for a separate cooperative in 1999.  McWilliams was never prosecuted locally in the earlier case, leaving it open for federal prosecutors to present to a grand jury.  Many drug law reform experts believe that McWilliams was singled out for federal prosecution because he was outspoken and politically active regarding the legalization of medicinal marijuana.

McWilliams is scheduled for trial in San Diego in early February.

For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup at (202) 483-5500 or California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer at (415) 563-5858.