The federal government successfully charged and convicted a man for growing marijuana. However, the defendant, Ed Rosenthal, was growing the stuff pursuant to the City of Oakland’s ordinance implementing California’s medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215. The federal judge ruled that the medical marijuana defense was irrelevant and prevented defense attorneys from informing the jury about it. This ruling was almost certainly legally correct, as the US Supreme Court has already held that federal drug laws trump state laws, specifically disavowing California’s Prop. 215 as a defense to federal charges.

Nonetheless, when the jurors found out about it, four of them said they never would have convicted if they had known, and issued statements in support of Mr. Rosenthal. “I really feel manipulated in a way,” one of the jurors said. “Had I known that information, there is no way I could have found that man guilty.”

If the man had been accused of bank robbery, and the prosecution tried to introduce evidence that he’d stolen money before, a defense attorney would move to keep the evidence out, saying that just because he’s a thief doesn’t mean that he did this bank robbery. Jurors might acquit, but be angry they did if they learned the man was already a known criminal. But the law protects against juries convicting someone based on inferences drawn from the type of person the defendant is. What’s clearly relevant to humans is sometimes irrelevant or inadmissible in the law.

So it is with motive. He had no motive, they say, but of course no one needs to prove a motive, and your motive is usually no defense to otherwise illegal behavior. An interesting case. It will be interesting to see whether the DOJ brings other cases against medical marijuana people. One of my students suggested that the Ashcroft justice department probably doesn’t care what a bunch of San Francisco jurors think about his prosecutions.