Will Medi-Pot Caregiver Go to Prison?

Federal judge wants feds to clarify position on medi-pot raids before sentencing California man

Lynch (center, with scissors) outside his dispensary, with Morro Bay, Calif. mayor and Chamber of Commerce
Lynch (center, with scissors) outside his dispensary, with Morro Bay, Calif. mayor and Chamber of Commerce (by Courtesy of CCCC)

Will the Dept. of Justice's new policy on medi-pot effect the fate of California medicinal pot provider Charles Lynch? That's the question now before Los Angeles federal Judge George Wu who has postponed a sentencing hearing for Lynch pending the response of the DOJ to his inquiries about the policy change.

Lynch, a former software designer, opened the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers medi-pot dispensary in 2006. By all accounts, Lynch had no problems operating in Morro Bay, Calif., and later that year was given permission to open a small medi-mari nursery in conjunction with the dispensary. In March 2007, however, with the help of the local sheriff, Lynch's dispensary was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration. In July 2007, he was arrested and charged with federal pot distribution. He pleaded not guilty and was tried the following summer. A month later Lynch was found guilty. He sought a new trial, arguing that he wasn't allowed to mount a defense -- namely, that his business was legal under state law -- but that was denied.

Lynch was set for sentencing on March 23 -- under federal guidelines he could reportedly receive a maximum of 85 years in prison -- but the sentencing was postponed by Judge Wu, who wants to hear from the DOJ before making any final decision on Lynch's fate.

At issue is a change in federal policy articulated by Attorney General Eric Holder, who has said that President Barack Obama would make good on a campaign promise to stop using federal law enforcement resources to raid and prosecute medi-pot patients and caregivers who are operating in compliance with state laws. Holder reiterated the Administration's position last week, telling reporters that the feds would not be pursuing dispensary owners complying with state law, but would still pursue those who are only using "medical marijuana laws as a shield" for illegal trafficking.

What effect that shift will have on Lynch's fate remains to be seen -- Wu has rescheduled the 47-year-old's sentencing hearing for April 30. Lynch's public defender Reuven Cohen said that jurors he has interviewed all say Lynch should be sentenced to probation only. "You have at least the statements that we've heard so far from Attorney General Holder indicate that somehow state law is now relevant to these prosecutions. Well, the govt...argued for days to keep state law out of it. And the reason they did that was because Charlie was in complete compliance with state law," he said during a press conference outside the federal court building in L.A. "Charles Lynch is not Pablo Escobar. Charles Lynch is the most decent man who's ever been prosecuted in this building."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Marijuana, medi-pot, DOJ, Eric Holder, Charles Lynch, Barack Obama

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