San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has injected himself into a federal criminal case against the operator of a medical marijuana dispensary, intensifying his standoff with federal prosecutors on cannabis enforcement issues.
Filner's urging jurors who'll be chosen for the trial to reject federal law in favor of state statutes under a centuries-old legal concept known as “jury nullification"-- whereby jurors can refuse to convict people under laws they believe should not be applied.
It's a bold, brash move that's potentially controversial and politically risky for a mayor.
But that's not atypical of the former "Freedom Rider" who served two months of jail time in Mississippi during the early years of the Civil Rights Era.
"This is way overdoing it when local laws, state laws allow compassionate use of medical marijuana,” Filner told reporters at the downtown U.S. District Court complex Monday. “Someone should not be going through this stage of prosecution for trying to help people to have access to medical marijuana."
Filner spoke after attending a pretrial hearing for Ronnie Chang, a San Marcos man busted along with more than a dozen marijuana collective and dispensary operators countywide in late 2009.
The case has is now heading to a trial, expected to begin this fall.
Chang has been in custody since his bond was revoked last year.
On Monday’s docket were prosecutors’ arguments that Chang's attorney, Michael McCabe, violated a judicial order against discussing the case in public by giving a videotaped interview to medical marijuana activists that was posted YouTube. It has since attracted a little more than 500 views.
McCabe told Judge Michael Anello that he'd request that San Diego Americans for Safe Access, the video’s producer and YouTube account holder, take down the video.
That seemed to satisfy the judge and Asst. U.S. Attorney Paul Starita, at least for the moment.
Meantime, federal and county authorities continue to raid pot shops in San Diego, after Filner's "stand-down" order to police while the City Council works on a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance.
The mayor is calling on Chang’s eventual jurors to send a message.
"It's time, like with Prohibition, to step back and say this was a stupid thing to do,” Filner said outside the courthouse. “Let's step back, and 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."
Representatives of the U.S. Attorney's office listened in on Filner's remarks to the media.
They told NBC 7 that prosecutors would have no comment.