Chronic City: The Sad Case of Charlie Lynch
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
In news closer to the home front here in New York...the Medical Marijuana bill is looking good so far. The folks in Albany are giving it more than a 50/50 chance of passing in both the chambers this time around, and the Governor has indicated he would sign the bill if it comes to his desk.
So...anyone out there willing to fund my training as a Medical Marijuana Caregiver? We need $300 to take a course from Cannabis Career Institute (CCI) out of California. Also, would like to find a Pro-Bono attorney to help me set up a Not For Profit corporation for this purpose.
Joel Peacock, shown in 2007, says marijuana would be cheaper and more effective." href="http://media.buffalonews.com/smedia/2009/04/22/07/311-0422peacock_bw.standalone.prod_affiliate.50.jpg" rel=lightbox[group]>
Approval predicted for medical marijuana
State legislators likely to act this session
ALBANY — Long-stalled efforts to permit the medicinal use of marijuana in this state appear to have a good chance of passage before lawmakers end their session in June. It would make New York the 15th state to legalize the drug for medical reasons.
Advocates say they believe the Democratic- controlled Senate and Assembly have the votes to pass legislation permitting qualified patients to grow their own marijuana plants, or obtain the drug on the streets or through a state-sanctioned dispensary.Gov. David A. Paterson also is said to be supportive of the legalization.
“It’s looking pretty darn good,” Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat and Health Committee chairman, said of the bill’s chance to become law this session.
The lawmaker, who has sponsored the measure for years, renewed a public push Tuesday, using the cases of two New Yorkers who have turned to marijuana to relieve their chronic pain as evidence of the need for the bill.
“I’m looking for all the help we can get to get this passed,” said Joel Peacock, a Buffalo resident and self-described conservative, who turned to the drug in the past to help with severe pain he still feels from a 2001 car accident.
The effort was jump-started by the Obama administration’s decision in February to stop raids on marijuana-dispensing centers in California, where medical marijuana is legal. U. S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. signaled that federal prosecution would cease in states that legalize medical marijuana, even though U. S. law bans the drug’s use.
The Assembly is considered certain to pass the measure. Advocates are working on the Senate Senate, where control switched in January to Democrats from Republicans.
In 2007, the measure had the backing of a half-dozen Republicans. Supporters say they fear as many as four Democrats, including Sen. William T. Stachowski, D-Lake View, might oppose it. That would require GOP help to get it passed in a chamber where Democrats hold a thin, 32-30 majority. Stachowski could not be reached to comment Tuesday.
Paterson’s office said the governor is not taking a stance on the bill, but sources described him as very supportive and said he even offered to introduce his own legislation legalizing medical marijuana.
Proponents say marijuana helps to relieve pain from such diseases as multiple sclerosis and to calm nausea, as well as to aid the appetite of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The measure has the backing of groups representing physicians, nurses and hospices.
The association representing the state’s district attorneys has not taken a formal position on the bill, said Daniel Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney and president of the group.
Speaking for himself and not his organization, Donovan, said a number of other drugs — from methadone to oxycondone — have been legalized to help with such things as relieving pain. “I’m not opposed to the idea. I’m open to the idea of seeing studies — and will trust the medical field,” he said.
The most vocal opposition comes from the state’s small but influential Conservative Party, which helped to kill the 2007 bill in the Republican-led Senate.
“If this passes, this is the beginning of a slippery slope that opens the door to legalize drugs,” said Michael R. Long, the party’s chairman.
Long said patients have plenty of alternatives to marijuana for pain relief. He claimed a lack of controls to prevent marijuana prescribed for a patient from getting into the hands of the patient’s children or from being sold on the streets.
“This is not helpful to our society,” Long said.
But Peacock, the subject of a 2007 profile in The Buffalo News, said his pain medications cost him and his insurer $39,000 a year. Pulling a package of painkillers from his pocket Tuesday — which cost $26 a dose — Peacock said marijuana would be both cheaper and more effective.
Peacock, who is enrolled in the Conservative Party, used marijuana during a construction job in Louisiana several years ago and then in Florida. He does not use it now because it is illegal in this state. “It took the pain away. I was absolutely amazed,” he said Tuesday at a news conference in Albany.
Joe Gamble, a Liverpool resident, a former Army paratrooper and commercial pilot, turns to marijuana now to relieve his pain from multiple sclerosis. He called for “a little compassion.”
“It’s not for everybody, but it certainly does work for me,” he said.
Backers say this is the first time the Assembly and Senate have had the same versions of medical marijuana bills. They note its Senate sponsor — Sen. Thomas K. Duane, a Manhattan Democrat — is chairman of the Health Committee, which has oversight of the matter.
Duane predicted the bill will pass with Democratic and Republican backing, saying: “This is about compassion. This is about medicine. This is not about politics.”
The bill would make marijuana legal for those sanctioned by a physician with a “serious condition,” defined as a “severe debilitating or life-threatening condition or a condition associated with or a complication of such a condition or its treatment, including but not limited to inability to tolerate food, nausea, vomiting, dysphoria or pain.”
It permits the possession of up to 12 marijuana plants or 2z ounces of marijuana. Those approved for the program can grow the plants from seeds purchased in the illicit drug market or through state-approved dispensing centers. The centers also could dispense marijuana.
The bill calls for the state Health Department to play a role in regulating entities that produce and sell marijuana to eligible patients. Patients that violate the terms of the bill would be subject to stricter penalties than someone now caught possessing marijuana.
Those eligible to legally smoke the drug for medical reasons would be given a card good for a year before requiring new approval by a physician or an approved caregiver. Doctors could not prescribe marijuana for themselves.
Patients deciding to grow their own marijuana must keep it in a locked, enclosed area, such as a greenhouse or closet accessible only to the patient or caregiver. Patients could not smoke the drug in a public place, and no caregiver could be responsible for more than five patients approved for medical marijuana.
The bill allows the state to charge dispensers a fee, and the entities could be anything from a pharmacy to a hospital clinic to a registered marijuana producer. It does not require insurers to cover the treatments.
Critics have said wording that lets eligible patients get the drug on the streets will only encourage the illegal drug trade.
A growing number of states, including Minnesota, Illinois and New Jersey, are considering medical marijuana laws, especially after the Obama administration’s policy change on the issue. In November, voters approved the drug’s use in Michigan and Massachusetts.
From North Dakato State University...these folks need $100K (one hundred thousand) to grow two arces of experimental Hemp...most of the cost is a direct result of the DEA absolutely INSANE security measures around the two acre plot.
NDSU still looking for funds for industrial hemp research site
Time is running out on North Dakota State University having time to plant and develop industrial hemp varieties this spring, but the university continues to work toward that goal.
D.C. Coston, vice-president for Agriculture and University Extension at NDSU, said they haven't found the funding yet to start a research plot.
“We're searching for a sponsor to get the structure built,” Coston said last week. “I don't know if we'll be able to find funding sources in time to get it up this spring.”
He estimates it would cost from $80,000 to $90,000 to put in a couple of acres of field plots surrounded by the type of security the Drug Enforcement Administration requires.
Some of those requirements include a high fence with barbed wire on top, and electronic monitoring equipment so that no one could gain entry without being detected.
“We need a large enough structure with at least 2 acres of actual planting area to do that kind of research,” Coston said.
The DEA notified NDSU in November 2007 it could begin research after a judge hearing oral arguments in an industrial hemp lawsuit brought my two North Dakota producers admonished the DEA for not acting on NDSU's request.
NDSU had sent the DEA an application in September 1999, after the North Dakota Legislature ordered NDSU to begin industrial hemp seed cultivation.
According to court documents, the DEA continued over the years to ask questions of Burton Johnson, NDSU associate professor of sunflower, minor, and new crop production, requesting such things as specifics on the security designs.
But Johnson never received any DEA approval after answering questions and submitting designs.
In 2003, NDSU submitted a request to the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission (APUC) for fencing and security system funding and it was approved.
Court documents say DEA instructed Johnson to spend the funding, construct the fence and put the security measures in place. The DEA wanted to come out after all the security devices were in place to inspect it, but the agency refused to give NDSU the assurance that they would then allow the research.
The facility was never built, and the funds stayed with APUC for other projects.
Coston is now looking for research funding sources, and APUC may be among them.
But after a long winter and snow and water still standing in NDSU fields this April, it is doubtful there will be time to get the structure built and inspected in time for planting season.
Coston said when research begins, there will be several places he could obtain plant material from to begin breeding.
“I'm sure Manitoba will be one of those,” he said. “You would think if industrial hemp can grow well in Manitoba, it will grow well here.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress began action on a federal industrial hemp bill last week.
According to VoteHemp, an organization that promotes hemp production, a bill was introduced in the House on April 2 that would remove restrictions on industrial hemp cultivation.
HR 1866, “The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009” was introduced by U.S. Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, along with nine other Republicans and Democrats.
“It is unfortunate that the federal government has stood in the way of American farmers, including many who are struggling to make ends meet, from competing in the global industrial hemp market,” said Paul. “Indeed, the founders of our nation, some of whom grew hemp, would surely find that federal restrictions on farmers growing a safe and profitable crop on their own land are inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee of a limited, restrained federal government.”
Eric Steenstra, VoteHemp president, said he hopes under a new administration, the DEA will “prioritize hemp's benefits to farmers.”
He said in this economic downturn, jobs could be “created overnight,” because now several companies import hemp raw materials to make products that are “worth many millions of dollars per year.”
At the same time, North Dakota State Rep. David Monson, Osnabrock, and Wayne Hauge, Ray, N.D., are awaiting a decision from their appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
They appealed dismissal of their 2007 lawsuit in November 2008, and are waiting for a decision sometime this year.
According to Adam Eidinger, of VoteHemp, they based their appeal on the assertion there was no possibility the hemp crop could be diverted into the market for drugs because it will be grown and the seed extracted right on the farm.
In addition, the North Dakota producers asserted that the Commerce Clause does not allow DEA to regulate industrial hemp farming in North Dakota.
According to court documents, the DEA again attempted to assert that the appeals court should not hear the case.
The appeals court disagreed.
The court again admonished the DEA for not acting on the North Dakota producers' application, just as a former court in Bismarck, N.D., did in 2007.
VoteHemp said the question before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals is “whether or not federal authorities can prosecute state-licensed farmers who grow non-drug oilseed and fiber hemp pursuant to North Dakota state law.”
“If (the appeal) is successful, states across the nation will be free to implement their own hemp farming laws without fear of federal interference,” Eidinger said.