Who Needs Jury Nullification?


Yesterday a federal judge sentenced three men to one year of probation for running the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, which was shut down by the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2001. Scott Imler, Jeffrey Farrington, and Jeff Yablin, who pleaded guilty to maintaining a place for the purpose of manufacturing, possessing, or distributing marijuana, could have received prison sentences of two and a half years each. U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz based his decision on the doctrine that "a defendant may commit a crime in order to avoid a perceived greater harm"--in this case, the marijuana-alleviated symptoms of patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, and other diseases.

Matz not only declined to impose prison sentences; he rebuked the DEA and the Justice Department for pursuing the case against Imler et al. "To allocate the resources of the [DEA] and the U.S. Attorney's Office in this case…baffles me, disturbs me," he said, calling the prosecution "badly misguided."

The decision is reminiscent of the one-day sentence that U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer imposed last June on Ed Rosenthal for growing medical marijuana in Oakland. It seems federal judges in California are revolting against the Justice Department's crackdown on medical marijuana.