Mr. Rogers: can you spell ‘Prop. 215'?
Call it the shirt wars.
Medical marijuana activist Mike Rogers, dubbed by Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey as the “merry medical marijuana minstrel,” was detained July 2 after a federal court hearing in Sacramento for wearing a T-shirt that the federal prosecutor said was aimed at tainting the jury.
Rogers was there as part of a contingent from the Butte Alliance for Medical Marijuana to lend support to defendant Bryan Epis, who could be sentenced to 10 years in prison if found guilty of cultivating marijuana. He was arrested in June 1997 for growing almost 1,000 marijuana plants in his West Francis Avenue basement. Epis, 35, claims that he was growing the plants only to supply other medical marijuana users with medicine, but the federal prosecutors trying the case maintain that the medical defense he wants to raise is just a ruse, and that he was growing the plants for profit.
Because Epis is being tried in federal court, which does not recognize Proposition 215, he’s been barred from using a medical marijuana defense.
Rogers, who’s also a friend of Epis, was briefly detained at the direction of federal prosecutor Samuel Wong, who was told that Rogers was wearing a shirt that said “No Justice,” a message that he presumably aimed at the jury.
The shirt, though, says nothing of the sort. The front of the shirt has the logo of the National Lawyers Guild with the initials “NLG” superimposed on them. Under the logo is the lefty group’s mission statement: “To the end that human rights should be more important than property rights.”
Rogers got the shirt back, but said he was shaken by the incident.
“It’s all just a joke at this point,” he said. “I mean, they can’t even figure out what kind of shirt I’m really wearing, and they want to put Bryan away in prison? Something’s not right about that.”
Attempted—or even perceived—jury tampering has been a major issue in the high profile case, as Epis himself was detained last week after Judge Frank C. Damrell found that he’d been outside the courtroom with his supporters before the day’s hearing started, handing out leaflets to prospective jurors outlining the medical marijuana defense he’s been barred from making in the courtroom.
Damrell is scheduled to make a ruling on Epis’ alleged jury tampering July 11.
For Rogers, the case has become somewhat of a parody of itself. He’s gleefully made a benign nuisance of himself outside of the courtroom, where he takes pictures of people he thinks are federal prosecutors and undercover operatives, holds signs testifying to Epis’ medical marijuana defense, and decries that the federal government was brought in to prosecute the case in the first place.
“The feds don’t even belong in this case," he said. "This should have been a state case, where Bryan could raise a medical marijuana defense, because in California, we voted for medical marijuana."