A federal judge sentenced the officers of a now defunct West Hollywood medical marijuana club to probation Monday and used the hearing as an opportunity to chastise the Justice Department and the DEA for hounding medical marijuana providers. The Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center's (http://www.lacbc.org) Scott Imler, Jeffrey Farrington and Jeff Yablin faced up to 30 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to the obscure federal charge of maintaining an establishment for the purpose of possessing, distributing and manufacturing drugs. Now, instead of prison, they face random drug tests and community service.
Imler and the LACRC were medical marijuana pioneers in California. The center, which provided marijuana to cancer, AIDS and other patients, opened in 1996, soon after voters approved Prop. 215, the state's medical marijuana initiative, and the LACRC tried at every turn to cooperate with state and local officials to ensure that the operation stayed within California law. But the US Dept. of Justice cared not a whit that Imler and his colleagues were obeying California law, and the DEA raided the LACRC in October 2001. The raiders seized 559 marijuana plants and charged the trio with drug trafficking offenses. Those charges were bargained down to the charge the three pleaded to earlier this year.
But the victory proved to be a phyrric one for federal prosecutors. US District Judge A. Howard Matz tore into the prosecution, saying at one point, "To allocate the resources of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the US attorney's office in this case... baffles me, disturbs me." Matz was also resolute in insisting that the men had acted from the loftiest motives. "They didn't do it for money or political leverage," the judge noted. "They committed a crime to avoid the harm of the greater suffering of patients" by providing them with medical marijuana, he added.
And Matz laid into prosecutors for downplayin Imler's own illness. He suffers from advanced lung cancer and is scheduled for surgery next week, but prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald argued that Imler's cancer was "not an extraordinary impairment." That prompted an angry retort from the bench. "I don't know these prosecutors, but to say this is not an extraordinary impairment shows that this person has had no direct experience with cancer," Matz snapped.
While supporters cheered the trio's avoidance of prison time and hailed Judge Matz's decision to depart downward from federal sentencing guidelines, they also pointed to the continuing federal offensive against medical marijuana in particular and reforming the drug laws in general. "Judge Matz has shown that common sense can prevail against the federal government's mean-spirited attacks," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, who was present at the sentencing. "But the drug warriors are trying to stop him. John Ashcroft is reviewing decisions like this, and Congressman Mark Souder is introducing the "Drug Sentencing Reform Act," which requires longer prison sentences for medical marijuana than child molestation."
And the battle continues. So far, some 45 Californians have been arrested on federal marijuana charges for activities that are legal under state law. But with sentences like those issued Monday to the LACRC 3 and the one issued to Ed Rosenthal earlier this year, even federal convictions can't guarantee the feds they'll be able to lock up their foes.