Arroyo Grande medical marijuana dispenser heads Los Angeles protest

February 22, 2009

Leslie Parrilla, San Luis Obispo Tribune

LOS ANGELES — The Arroyo Grande man in the middle of a protest of the federal government’s prosecution of medical marijuana purveyors stood center stage Monday at a rally in downtown Los Angeles.

Charles Lynch, who ran the Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary called Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, wore a crown of imitation marijuana in crucifixion-like style and an orange prison jumpsuit reading “Gotbusted Penitentiary.” He chanted in unison with a fiery crowd of about 60 supporters from throughout the state clustered on a corner outside the federal courthouse.

Lynch was expected to be sentenced Monday at the courthouse, but the hearing was postponed until March 23.

He was convicted Aug. 5 of operating the dispensary and faces from five to 100 years in prison, he said. Federal prosecutors charged Lynch with distributing marijuana to minors, maintaining a drug-involved premises and aiding and abetting. He was out of jail Monday on $400,000 bond.

Horns blared from a bustle of traffic rounding the corner at Temple and North Main streets as Lynch’s public defenders castigated the federal government for its prosecution of their client.

The case pits conflicting state and federal laws against each other — voter-approved state law allows medical marijuana, yet a federal law restricts the drug.

“The question now is whether or not Charlie is going to be crucified before history changes,” said public defender Reuven Cohen, one of Lynch’s attorneys.

Protesters called on President Barack Obama to require the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to acknowledge state law.

“I’m really hoping that some of this gets out to Obama,” said Zita Worley, 38, of Beaumont, a member of Americans For Safe Access, an organization that promotes legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.

Worley wants Obama to fill the top DEA slot with someone who will stop the raids on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Federal and state authorities raided the Morro Bay co-operative March 29, 2007. Abe Baxter, a security officer there, was also arrested for allegedly selling the drug outside the dispensary, according to a crime report. Baxter is being tried locally by state officials and is scheduled to be in court March 3 for a pretrial hearing, according to court records.

Lynch’s mother, Bodine Jones, came from New Mexico to garner support for her son. She rallied the crowd by telling supporters Monday that, “I’m not going to lose a child to the federal government.”

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, released a statement Monday urging federal authorities to suspend enforcement actions against law-abiding medical marijuana dispensaries in California.

A mention of Sheriff Pat Hedges, who did not attend the rally but whose department was involved in investigating Lynch’s dispensary, received a prolonged “Boo” from the group that pumped fluorescent green signs reading “Free Lynch” and a misspelled “Marijana Cures Epilepsy.”

Sheriff’s officials have defended their investigation, saying that they were looking into state and federal violations that posed a danger to the public and left them in the middle of conflicting laws. They assert that their job is not to ignore violations on any level, if they learn a law has been broken.

The peaceful protest Monday remained low-key, prompting even a wave from a Los Angeles Police Department officer driving by. Several officers stood nearby the crowd throughout the rally as one organizer advised people not to medicate while there.

Gary Gall of Cambria said he was driving through the area and decided to stop and support Lynch. His wife was suffering from cancer and used medical marijuana instead of a cocktail of drugs that did nothing to help her, he said.

“I hope the president will stand by his word and not throw people in jail in states that have voted for it,” said Gall, referring to legalizing the drug for medical use.

Lynch also called on the president to “Make a change today” and encouraged supporters to “Let your voice be heard. Let your e-mails be sent.”

When asked if he would open a dispensary again, Lynch said, “I don’t know if I could say, knowing what I know now, that I would do it again.”



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