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April 23, 2009 -- San Francisco Weekly (CA)

Chronic City: The Sad Case of Charlie Lynch

By Steve Elliott

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive


Medical marijuana dispensary operator Charles Lynch, 47, is facing a government-recommended five years in federal prison -- even though he meticulously followed state and local laws. Under federal law, Lynch could receive up to 100 years. At a hearing late Thursday afternoon, the judge in the case indicated a decision on sentencing will be delayed until June 11.

When he opened Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, in Morro Bay in 2006, Lynch was welcomed by the mayor and chamber of commerce in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. He paid his taxes and he carefully went by the rules.

Lynch's business license clearly stated "medical marijuana dispensary." He even called the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2005, months before opening, to inquire about the law. An agent told him "it's up to the cities and counties to decide how to handle that." So he opened the business.

Despite Lynch's meticulous adherence to city, county, and California law, the federal DEA raided his business and home on March 29, 2007, seized his medicine and money, and charged Lynch with unlawfully distributing marijuana under federal law. Draconian federal sentencing guidelines dictate a five-year mandatory minimum in Lynch's case.

Complicating Lynch's defense is the fact that he sold to a "minor" (person under 21) by federal definition, thus "enhancing" his sentencing guidelines. The person in question was a teen cancer patient with a legal, valid medical marijuana card, and who used medical pot with the permission and approval of his parents.

After a long legal struggle, during which the defense wasn't permitted to mention the fact that medical marijuana is legal in California, he was convicted on federal charges on Aug. 5, 2008. Both the mayor and city attorney of Morro Bay testified on Lynch's behalf as a law abiding citizen.

President Barack Obama's Department of Justice refused to budge on the case, even though both the President and Attorney General Eric Holder have reaffirmed that the DEA will no longer conduct raids on medical marijuana suppliers in states where it is legal.

In a distressing lack of backbone, Obama's DOJ is maintaining that Lynch's prosecution "falls within the guidelines" of cases they pursue. Never mind that it's complete bollocks -- Lynch has the paperwork to prove he was operating completely legally under California law. If Lynch didn't qualify as "following state law," it's difficult to see who would.

Lynch's lawyers said they would appeal immediately after sentencing.

Who's in charge here?

* California voters? They weighed in 13 years ago, legalizing marijuana for medical use.

* Local police? Local police had a good relationship with Lynch and his dispensary, and often had friendly visits to the location.

* Morro Bay Mayor Janice Peters? Mayor Peters had personally given her business card to all the businesses surrounding CCCC and asked them to call if they ever had an issue relating to the dispensary. She testified that she never received one complaint.

* San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department? Sheriff Pat Hedges is no fan of marijuana, medical or otherwise. The sheriff reportedly watched Lynch, his employees, his patients, and his dispensary for 11 months, trying to catch Charlie doing something -- anything -- outside the law, and was unsuccessful (it was a frustrated Sheriff Hedges who ultimately called in the DEA to arrest Lynch on federal charges).

* State officials? No problem; Lynch was legally licensed.

* California Attorney General Jerry Brown? The AG's office has issued legal "acceptable practice" guidelines for dispensaries, and is not interested in prosecuting Lynch, who followed the rules.

* Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger? The Governator, a former toker himself, has been silent on the issue, refusing to stand up to the Feds for the laws and people of California.

* Federal Judge George H. Wu? Wu, a Bush-appointed judge hearing his very first federal case, sought guidance from the Department of Justice, since federal medical marijuana policy has changed since the case began. But the DOJ continues to insist Lynch was violating both state and federal law -- despite a complete lack of evidence of the former.

That leaves ultimate culpability to President Obama.

At least two dozen more defendants in California are in the same situation as Lynch. Will Obama and AG Holder be content to continue the failed marijuana policies of the Bush administration? If so, how many more law-abiding men like Charlie Lynch must go to prison?

For more information on the Charles Lynch case, visit the Friends of Charlie Lynch at: Friends of CCL

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