On Monday May 20, 2013, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner attended a pretrial hearing at the federal district courthouse in downtown San Diego to show his support for defendant Ronnie Chang. Chang faces over 60 federal counts for operating a medical marijuana collective. Although Mr. Chang argues that he was in compliance with California state law, marijuana production and distribution for medical or any other purpose is still illegal under federal law.
While Mr. Chang’s trial is still four months away, the hearing was in regards to the suppression of a viral video made by Ronnie Chang’s supporters which features Chang’s attorney, Mike Macabe. In the video, titled “Ron Chang Federal Persecution – Mike Macabe Attorney Interview,” Macabe makes the argument that Chang’s prosecution is motivated by politics and that Chang is being targeted by the Feds for continuing to run his medical marijuana collective in San Marcos after being raided by the DEA.
The federal prosecutors made the argument that the viral video, which can be found on YouTube on the ASA (Americans for Safe Access) page, violated Local Rule 83 7d, which is meant to keep both the prosecution and defense teams in a criminal case from arguing the merits of their case in the press and tainting the jury pool.
Judge Anello, who presided over the hearing reiterated that although there is no gag order in effect for the Ronnie Chang case, both the prosecution and defense counsels are to abide by the local rule. He also conceded that compliance with the local rule applies only to the litigating attorneys and that his ruling has no authority over private entities outside of the courtroom.
Furthermore, Anello commented that it would be impractical to try to force the various Internet feeds that have picked up the video to take it down of prevent the video from being shared, Anello half-heartily suggested Macabe ask the group that posted the video to take it down, to which Macabe responded that he has no control over the video.
In fact, Eugene Davidovich, who sits on the board of the San Diego chapter of ASA, whose website and YouTube page the video was originally posted, said after the hearing that “it would be complicated to have the video removed because all decisions have to go through the board, the board would have to vote on it. Besides the video has been shared and passed all over the net so at this point there’s no way we could control it.”And according to Judge Anello, ASA doesn’t have to.
Mayor Filner, who sat through the hearing with his arm around Carmen Chang, Ronnie Chang’s elderly mother, held an impromptu press conference out the Federal Courthouse immediately following the hearing. At the press conference, standing beside Carmen Chang. Mayor Filner argued that California residents should use jury nullification should they be selected to sit on the jury for the trial. Mayor Filner said “This case is about how we object to the persecution of our local residents.”
The Ronnie Chang case, when it finally goes to trial will have major implications not only for California, but also the entire nation. If it is shown that Chang was in compliance with all California state laws regarding marijuana cultivation and distribution, whether or not he is convicted by the feds, could set the tone for how the federal government will proceed with such prosecutions in not only California, but in states like Washington and Colorado where marijuana has been legalized across the board.
For the pro-marijuana side of the table, a Ronnie Chang acquittal would give them a clear victory and possibly lead the way for local city and state governments to support marijuana legalization without fear of federal pressure and increased DEA raids within their jurisdictions. Also, If the federal government were to lose in the Chang case, it might be a deterrent to the feds in pursuing further criminal prosecutions in areas that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana for medical or other purposes.
If Chang is convicted, it could embolden the federal government to pursue more criminal prosecutions and lay the foundation for seeking such prosecutions in Washington and California. The Ronnie Chang case is set to be a test for both sides of the marijuana legalization fight.