Tenderloin Man on Trial for Possession/Sale of Marijuana Could Get 3 Years in State Prison

Nobody's saying David Rhodman is perfect. He used to be a cocaine addict, says his public defender, Carmen Aguirre, and he's got a few crack and cocaine-related charges from the early 90's on his record. There was also a felony robbery in 1995, which resulted in a strike on Rhodman's record.

"But after '95, it's all weed," says Aguirre. And for a guy living in San Francisco, where some might not even realize weed is still illegal, Rhodman has paid a steep price for his habit. He pleaded guilty to selling weed back in 2005, then violated his parole and got two years in state prison. Now -- with fresh charges of selling and possessing marijuana -- he stands to get three more.

"That seems really harsh," says Stephen Gutwillig, California State Director of Drug Policy Alliance (a national organization that promotes policy alternatives to the drug war).

Rhodman's latest charge stemmed from an incident in November, when the Tenderloin SRO resident was busted by 10 undercover SFPD officers. According to the police report, the "buy" officer, Inspector Monroe, had been walking west on Market Street when he noticed Rhodman informing passersby, "I got green bud. Green bud."

"Let me get twenty," Monroe said. Rhodman handed Monroe two baggies of weed, and Monroe gave Rhodman $20 in marked city funds. Then he made the secret, arranged bust signal, and all the rest of the officers closed in on Rhodman, placing him under arrest. Rhodman threw four baggies to the ground, but a cop saw and collected them for evidence.

A bust like this is a rare sight on the streets of San Francisco, especially after 2006, when the Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance placing marijuana offenses at the bottom of the San Francisco Police Department and District Attorney's list of priorities. That said, public marijuana sales, as in Rhodman's case, were left out of the ordinance.

Still, Aguirre feels that San Francisco is no place for large-scale marijuana busts. "That's the climate of the community," she says. "We've declared this to be harmless. They're [SFPD] getting federal grants to do these buy operations, and using that federal money to close in on something that's been state and community sanctioned."

"I want the community to know that this is how the cops and DA are spending their money," she says.

A message left for the SFPD has not yet been returned.
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