AG resident in medical marijuana battle

September 04, 2007

Hector Trujillo, Santa Maria Times (CA)

Arroyo Grande resident Charles Lynch is embroiled in a legal battle with federal prosecutors over his medical marijuana dispensary.

Lynch has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that include distributing marijuana to minors, aiding and abetting illegal marijuana distribution to minors and maintaining premises that were involved with illegal drugs.

“I hope he gets a full pardon and a full apology from those persecuting him,” said Ken Parson of Grover Beach.

“There are a lot of people suffering because they can't get safe access (to medical marijuana).

“I knew (Lynch) ran a very tight ship and security was very serious for him, so this totally upset me,” he added. “The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department knew they could not touch him themselves.”

Parson said his comments about the Sheriff's Department were based on the experience he had with law enforcement agencies this year.

Repeated phone calls to the San Luis Obispo County's Sheriff's Department regarding circumstances surrounding Lynch's arrest went unreturned.

Earlier this year, Parson was involved in a situation where Grover Beach police confiscated his medical marijuana and refused to return it to him, claiming it violated federal law.

Among Parson's claims was that his property and its use were allowed under Proposition 215.

Prop. 215, known as the Compassionate Use Act, was passed by California voters in 1996 to protect seriously and terminally ill patients from criminal penalties for using marijuana medically.

Only people with their doctor's recommendation to use marijuana in medical treatment are covered by Prop. 215.

A San Luis Obispo County Superior Court judge later ruled the Police Department had to return the marijuana or pay a $5,900 fine.

“My case sent the message out there that all law enforcement in California has to comply with Prop. 215,” Parson added.

In 2003, Senate Bill 420 was preventing arrests - not just prosecution - of medical marijuana prescription card-holding individuals for possession, transportation, delivery or cultivation up to six mature plants per patient.

On Jan. 9, 2006, Lynch opened the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers medical marijuana dispensary in Atascadero in compliance with state and local ordinances after a city-issued moratorium against such dispensaries expired in November 2005.

Three months later, the Atascadero City Council voted 4-1 to establish an application process, ordering Lynch to shut down his business and apply for a permit retroactively.

He obtained a temporary restraining order against the city of Atascadero, which allowed the dispensary to stay open until Feb. 17 pending a court decision on the matter.

But rather than fight a prolonged legal battle against the city, Lynch moved his dispensary to Morro Bay after receiving a business license from that city.

The dispensary was raided by federal officers in March, and federal agents arrested Lynch at his Arroyo Grande residence on July 17. He was then booked at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles and released on $400,000 bail.

Neither Lynch nor his attorney would comment on the status of the case because, they said, it is still open.

“We have been seeing an increase in local law enforcement pushing for federal assistance in conducting raids and shutting down dispensaries,” said Kris Hermes, a representative of Safe Access Now, which works on behalf of medical marijuana use.

“This is a clear effort to skirt state law because local officials have to uphold state law,” he said.

Lynch faces charges that have minimum sentencing guidelines of five years each. Supporters of Lynch have set up the Friends of Charles Lynch Fund to help with his legal costs.

“Local officials know they would have a difficult time bringing these cases into state court,” Hermes added. “In state court, you can bring in medical evidence but not in federal court.

“All they have to show in federal court is that marijuana is present and that it was passed from one hand to another,” Hermes said.

On June 6, 2005, in the case of Gonzales vs. Raich, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 that the federal government can still ban possession of the drug in states that have eliminated sanctions for its use in treating symptoms of illness.

Three days later, California Chief Assistant Attorney General Robert Anderson sent a bulletin to all California law enforcement agencies stating the Supreme Court decision “imposes no mandatory duty on California peace officers to enforce the federal Controlled Substance Act against individuals whose possession, use or cultivation of marijuana is lawful under California law.”

“In exercising discretion to make a marijuana-related arrest, state and local officers should recognize that under the Compassionate Use Act, the unlawful use or possession of marijuana remains illegal under California law,” the bulletin said.

In 1993, the city of San Luis Obispo adopted a resolution supporting the use of medical marijuana and requested the county, California Legislature and the president restore cannabis and marijuana preparations to the list of available medicines that can be prescribed by licensed physicians and to provide and ensure a safe and affordable supply of cannabis for medical use.

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