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Medical Marijuana: California Dispensary Operator Charles Lynch Sentenced to a Year and a Day, Remains Free Pending Appeal

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #589)
Politics & Advocacy

A federal judge in Los Angeles sentenced Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary operator Charles Lynch to a year and a day in federal prison Thursday in one of the first sentences to be handed down since the Obama administration said it was adjusting federal policy on medical marijuana. Lynch was scheduled to be sentenced earlier this year, but US District Judge George Wu postponed that hearing with federal medical marijuana policy up in the air.

Charlie Lynch (from
Lynch was convicted of five marijuana-related offenses last year for operating his dispensary in Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County even though the dispensary was licensed and operated with the approval of local authorities -- except for the sheriff, who turned to the feds after being frustrated in his efforts to shut down the operation of which he did not approve, but which operated in accordance with state law.

Judge Wu showed some leniency in sentencing. Under federal law, Lynch faced a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, but Wu said Lynch merited an exception. He also allowed Lynch to remain free on bail while pursuing an appeal.

That wasn't enough for drug reform advocates. "For Charlie Lynch to spend one night in federal prison, let alone a year, is a travesty," said Stephen Gutwillig, California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "This dispensary operator followed all state and local rules and has been dragged into a legal nightmare right out of Kafka. He is caught between California's voter-approved medical marijuana system and the Bush administration's single-minded effort to smother it. That Attorney General Holder changed federal policy three months ago only makes this miscarriage of justice all the more disturbing. Charlie is like a forgotten prisoner of war, abandoned after a truce was declared."

"Years from now, Mr. Lynch may well be remembered as the last American to go to federal prison for a mistake, the final victim of an already repudiated policy well on its way to the ash heap of history, but whose mean-spirited effects still linger," said Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia. "This sentence is a cruel and pointless miscarriage of justice. Mr. Lynch and his attorneys say they plan to appeal, and we hope they succeed. With federal law enforcement at the Mexican border so overwhelmed that traffickers coming through with up to 500 pounds of marijuana are let go, even one more penny spent persecuting a man who is not a criminal in any rational sense of the word is an outrageous waste of resources."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Yeah...because that aggression will go real well towards changing a sheriff's mind to the fact that cannabis and cannabis users are not dangerous. The way to approach this is to actually think. And get involved. Not to yell at cops.

Fri, 06/12/2009 - 2:08pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

You need both level-headed, sober activist approaches, and you need shame tactics that call these guys out (nothing violent however). You got to hit them from both sides...they must know the public is disgusted to the point of resorting to screaming.

- Chuck

Fri, 06/12/2009 - 3:25pm Permalink
mariathelion9 (not verified)

What we need to do is back up Charlie, financially, morally, verbally in discussions and in support protests etc. We must write editorials to our local papers, blogs etc... that this IS important too MANY people. Then write the WH. Shouting at cops is NOT a worthwhile tactic. Support Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (www.leap) instead!

Sat, 06/13/2009 - 4:28pm Permalink
Richard P Steeb (not verified)

An outrageous waste of resources AND an abortion of justice.

Just like Bryan Epis' "trial", Ed Rosenthal, and the rest.

The Federal law, Nixon's putrid legacy, must be abolished. Cannabis in Schedule I is a damned lie.

Sun, 06/14/2009 - 2:12am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

The war on drugs has created the mindset we are experiencing today. It is going to take time for a new outlook on cannabis to be reestablished. We are, unfortunately, in charge of that. The bad apples will set us back as well as the authorities who feel that they were not misinformed by the campaign on cannabis. It is a huge responsibility to create a different and a more accurate view on this plant. To help put our job into perspective, there are a lot of people that are scared to even say the word marijuana. It's not really the
sherriffs fault. He was doing what he thought was right based on 40+ years of misinformation. Be patient, move forward with a level headed approach, and mighty forces will be at our aid.

Sun, 12/13/2009 - 12:36pm Permalink

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