Federal Judge Recommends Reclassification of Medical Marijuana

May 06, 2010

, Salem-News.com

Federal District Judge George H. Wu issued a revised 41-page written sentencing order this week for former medical cannabis provider, Charles C. Lynch. In addition, the Judge also granted the defense's request for reduced supervised restrictions as Lynch remains out on $400,000 bail pending appeal. Lynch's Federal Public Defender filed an appeal Thursday, May 6. "[T]his case is not like that of a common drug dealer buying and selling drugs without regulation, government oversight, and with no other concern other than making profits. In this case, the defendant opened a marijuana dispensary under the guidelines set forth by the State of California...His purpose for opening the dispensary was to provide marijuana to those who, under California law, [were] qualified to receive it for medical reasons."

The sentencing order states that Lynch was "caught in the middle of shifting positions" on the issue and that, "Much of the problems could be ameliorated…by the reclassification of marijuana from schedule I."

Lynch gained notoriety as a federal medical cannabis defendant after being raided, arrested, prosecuted and convicted under the Bush Administration but then sentenced after President Obama signaled a change in federal enforcement policy.

That notoriety came in part because of all of the support from the medical cannabis community that rallied around Lynch. The Judge acknowledges, in a footnote in his sentencing order, the massive out pouring of letters for Lynch:

Charles Lynch at his former business

"While simple popularity is not a factor to be considered, the Court notes that it has received more letters in support of Lynch in this matter than in any other case in the undersigned judicial officer's 16 years on the federal and state benches."

Judge Wu's call for the reclassification of marijuana comes as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is considering a petition, filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis.

After a multi-year-long review by the Department of Health and Human Services, the petition was recently sent to DEA, the final stage of the process. Acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart -- who still must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate -- has the authority to grant or deny the rescheduling.

Judge Wu ordered Lynch back into court April 29, 2010 to discuss his written decision. Both the Prosecution and the Defense pointed out errors in Wu's written opinion, so Wu had to re-write it. Lynch claims there are still errors in the document.

Such as Judge Wu's claim that Lynch should have known cannabis sold by one of his former employees to an undercover officers—in a parking lot at least 5 miles from the collective -- came from Lynch's collective. However, there was no evidence that the cannabis came from Lynch or his collective.

At that April 2010 court appearance, Judge Wu had forgotten that In June 2009 he verbally sentenced Lynch to one year and a day, and four years of supervised release, despite the 5-year mandatory minimum being sought by the Justice Department. Judge Wu also forgot he told Lynch he could remain out on bail pending appeal.

Charles Lynch's appearance on Larry King Live

Four months after that June 11th sentencing hearing, the Justice Department issued a memo directive in October to U.S. Attorneys, discouraging them from arresting and prosecuting medical marijuana patients and providers that follow state law.

Lynch remains released on bail pending his appeal, but cannot use medical marijuana according to the terms of his release. However Judge Wu agreed to remove the requirement that Lynch call in daily to see if he has to report to random drug testing.

Judge Wu also reduced Lynch's supervision from "intense to routine." Lynch had been driving over 200 miles to Los Angeles from his home in Arroyo Grande every two weeks for brief meetings with his probation officers. Lynch now can drive to Santa Barbara about once a month instead.

Before his medical cannabis collective was raided by DEA agents in March of 2007, Lynch had operated for 11 months without incident, and with the blessing of the Morro Bay Mayor, City Attorney, City Council, the local Chamber of Commerce, and other community members.

Two months after Lynch closed his dispensary, Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, he was indicted and charged with conspiracy to possess and possession with intent to distribute marijuana and concentrated cannabis, manufacturing more than 100 plants, knowingly maintaining a drug premises, and sales of marijuana to a person under the age of 21. None of the federal charges Lynch was convicted of constituted violations of local or state law.

Currently, patients and providers are prevented from using a medical necessity or a state law defense in federal court. The Justice Department policy has failed to deter the prosecution of more than two dozen pending federal cases.

In response, Americans for Safe Access advocates for the passage of Congressional legislation -- HR 3939, the Truth in Trials Act -- which would give state law-compliant defendants a fighting chance in federal court.

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