This week, Texas Governor Rick Perry helped clear the way to release 14 wrongfully convicted black residents of Tulia, TX, railroaded by a racist cop and a complicit District Attorney; California legislature moves toward supplying state issued medical marijuana cards to protect patients from arrest; and Ed Rosenthal, the "guru of ganja" is given a federal felony conviction and sentenced to one day in prison for growing medical marijuana for the city of Oakland, CA.
June 3 -- The Austin American-Statesman opines: With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Rick Perry cleared the last remaining hurdle to bail -- and freedom -- for the Tulia 14. Still, it will take about two weeks to complete bail arrangements for the Tulia defendants who were wrongfully convicted of drug charges in 1999 and 2000 and have been in prison since their arrests. However, in signing Senate Bill 1948, which takes effect immediately, Perry put the Tulia 14 on a fast track to freedom.
Their long and frustrating ride is far from over, though. Still unresolved are the tainted convictions that landed them in prison in the first place. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will make the final determination about whether convictions of 38 (including the 14) Tulia residents should be thrown out as recommended by a district judge and special prosecutors earlier this year.
The court should act expeditiously to clear all 38. It's the minimum the court can do for the men and women who were railroaded by a corrupt criminal justice system that starred a racist police officer, a prosecutor who suppressed facts and a state-financed drug enforcement task force that is accountable to no one.
In all, 46 Tulia residents were arrested on felony drug charges solely on the say-so of then-undercover officer Tom Coleman. During his 18-month "drug sting," Coleman targeted Tulia's tiny African American community, claiming he made dozens of drug buys, primarily from black people.
Of those 46 individuals, 38 were convicted on the testimony of a cop whose law enforcement record was riddled with trouble. He had a tendency to fabricate and had been on the wrong side of the law himself. Coleman was arrested on charges of theft during his undercover sting. Incredibly, Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart allowed him to continue working undercover on the drug sting. Charges were dropped after Coleman paid $7,000 in restitution.
Coleman misidentified suspects and changed official reports to untangle his accusations. There were no corroborating evidence or witnesses to confirm drug buys he said he made in public places. He claimed he made on-duty drug buys during periods when records show he was off duty. Police didn't recover any illegal drugs or cash when suspects were arrested. Coleman kept track of his drug buys by writing them down on his stomach and leg, he said.
Ironically, Coleman is free on bail while 13 men and one woman suffer in prison.
The State Bar of Texas should investigate Swisher County District Attorney Terry McEachern, whose work in this case may have violated state ethics rules governing conduct of prosecutors. Legal findings filed in the Tulia case show that McEachern failed to disclose facts about Coleman that would have benefited the Tulia defendants.
June 3 -- Associated Press reports: Medical marijuana users would get identity cards designed to protect them from arrest under legislation approved by the state Senate.
The bill, passed Monday, would require the state Department of Health Services to develop the card program. County health departments would verify the qualifications of applicants.
Supporters of the bill say the identity cards would help law enforcement officers determine who has a valid medical reason for using marijuana. The legislation now goes to the Assembly.
June 5 -- The New York Times reports: A convicted marijuana grower was sentenced to one day in prison and fined $1,000 by a federal judge today, the most lenient sentence allowed under law.
The defendant, Ed Rosenthal, had faced a possible sentence of 100 years in prison and a potential fine of $4.5 million for his conviction in January on felony charges of marijuana cultivation and conspiracy.
"We are all delighted with what we view as as fair and just a sentence that could be imposed under the circumstances of Ed having suffered a conviction," one of Mr. Rosenthal's lawyers, Dennis P. Riordan, said.
Federal authorities arrested Mr. Rosenthal last year for growing marijuana to be sold for medicinal uses under the auspices of the City of Oakland's medicinal marijuana ordinance.
"I think 20 years from now, when historians look back at how the federal war on medical marijuana ended, this will be the hinge point," said Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group in Washington.
But Richard Meyer, a spokesman for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in San Francisco, said the sentencing would have no effect on the agency's work.
"We are not listening to them," Mr. Meyer said of the marijuana advocates. "We will continue to protect the public from the dangers of all illegal drugs."
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