Federal Prosecutors Lift Gag Order After San Diego Mayor Defends Dispensary Owner Ronnie Chang: Update

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Jay Brockman
Scroll down to the end of this post for an update on Ronnie Chang's case in the wake of Mayor Bob Filner's press conference Monday.

Original Post, May 21, 1:30 p.m.: In the midst of a major crackdown on California's medical marijuana movement, where most city officials are either working with the federal government to eradicate storefront dispensaries or directing police to raid these clubs, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is taking another tack.

He's not only speaking up in defense of dispensaries, but is actually urging jurors in an ongoing federal trial of a dispensary owner charged with selling marijuana to reject the prosecution on the grounds that medical marijuana is legal under state law.

The case involves a San Marcos dispensary operator named Ronny Chang, who was busted in 2009 and has been in jail ever since he violated a gag order on the case by talking about it in a Youtube video produced by Americans for Safe Access. (The video has since been taken down).

In another Youtube video (that hasn't been taken down) which was shot outside San Diego's federal courthouse yesterday, Filner denounced the government's case as "persecution," urging jurors to refuse to go along with it.

"I mean here they take a guy who had a legal permit for a dispensary under state laws, and arrest him and put him in jail," Filner argues. "When he got out on bail, they found a way to get him back in jail, then they wanted a gag order in addition. This is way overdoing it when state laws, local laws, allow the medicinal use of marijuana. Someone should not be going through this stage of prosecution for trying to help people to have access to medical marijuana."

Filner said that juries need to signal to the feds that they won't tolerate criminal prosecutions of people who should be protected under state law. "It's time, like with Prohibition, to step back and say this was a stupid thing to do," Filner said. "Juries ought to take the lead and say that to the federal government . . . and if the federal government isn't listening to the mayor, maybe they'll listen to the jury."

The case is scheduled to go to trial later this year.

Update, May 22, 10:54 a.m.: Just a day after Mayor Filner spoke up in defense of incarcerated dispensary owner Ronnie Chang, prosecutors lifted their ridiculous gag order request in the case. What had raised the feds' ire was a video produced by the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) in which Chang's attorney, Mike McCabe pretty much shreds the government's case against his client.

You can watch the video here. The fact that the feds were so quick to fold under the pressure once the mayor called them out for their bullying tactics makes you wonder why more elected officials in California, particularly Orange County, aren't standing up for their constituents. This isn't an academic question. In Long Beach, Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron, who were convicted of selling marijuana until they earned a new trial thanks to judicial misconduct, still face the prospect of heading back to court and spending years in prison if convicted.

And here in Orange County, activist Jason Andrews, who was tried last year for selling marijuana but escaped conviction thanks to a mistrial, is heading back to court for a second trial on May 28. Stay tuned...

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