Chong helps out 'Guru of Ganja'
By Josh Richman
"Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal is bringing in another celebrity of the marijuana movement to help him raise money for his upcoming federal trial.
Tommy Chong -- half of the Cheech and Chong comedy duo renowned for stoner movie classics such as "Up in Smoke" and "Nice Dreams" -- will appear at a $125-per-head event March 4 at Rosenthal's Lake Avenue home in Piedmont.
Some advance tickets are available for $100 at Rosenthal's legal defense fund's Web site, www.green-aid.com.
"The party will celebrate how far we've come in legalizing medical marijuana as well as provide me with the money I need to fund my current trial that is defending all of our rights," Rosenthal, 62, said in an e-mail Thursday.
He is scheduled to appear in federal court March 19, and he estimates his trial and related expenses could cost more than $300,000.
Chong was prosecuted, convicted and served nine months in federal prison a few years ago as part of a federal crackdown on purveyors of drug paraphernalia. He had financed and promoted a line of glass water pipes often used for smoking marijuana, and he said he pleaded guilty to prevent charges from being filed against his wife and son.
The case made Chong, beloved for his comedy act, a poster boy among marijuana advocates.
Famed for his marijuana cultivation books and the "Ask Ed" column he wrote for High Times magazine, Rosenthal was convicted of three marijuana-growing felonies in 2003, more than a year after federal agents raided sites including his Oakland home, an Oakland warehouse in which he was growing marijuana and a San Francisco medical marijuana club he supplied.
Medical use of marijuana on a doctor's recommendation is legal under state law but prohibited by federal law, so Rosenthal was barred from mounting a medical defense at trial. A judge sentenced him to one day behind bars -- time he had already served.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his convictions in April, citing juror misconduct -- a juror's conversation with an attorney friend during deliberations -- compromised Rosenthal's right to a fair verdict and warranted a new trial.
But the court rejected Rosenthal's claim of immunity from prosecution as an officer of Oakland who grew the drug under the city's medical marijuana ordinance.
Federal prosecutors filed a new indictment with additional charges in October, saying Rosenthal from October 2001 through February 2002 conspired with Kenneth Hayes and Richard Watts to grow marijuana at sites on Sixth Street in San Francisco and on Mandela Parkway in Oakland; laundered marijuana proceeds by buying four money orders totaling $1,854 during that time; and falsified tax returns for 1999, 2000 and 2001 by omitting income from his marijuana distribution.
Hayes and Watts face similar, related charges. Both were charged after the 2002 raids that nabbed Rosenthal, but injuries suffered in a car accident have kept Watts from trial until now, and Hayes fled to Canada just before he was indicted.