Federal Judge Suggests Leniency for Medical Marijuana Sentencing

Los Angeles, CA -- The Justice Department is seeking a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years for state and locally sanctioned medical marijuana provider Charles C. Lynch, despite statements of a new policy and no evidence of state law violations. Lynch was convicted in federal court in 2008 under the Bush Administration and will be sentenced this Thursday at 9:30am in Los Angeles federal district court. At a previous hearing, Judge George H. Wu indicated that he doesn't think this case "is one which merits a mandatory minimum" sentence. However, a legal brief recently filed by the government called the legality of Lynch's conduct under state law "irrelevant" to his recommended sentence, seemingly in contrast with statements by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department would only target those in violation of both federal and state law.

"With no clear evidence that Charles Lynch was in violation of state law, it's very disingenuous for the federal government to seek prison time in this case," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with the national advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "Despite this aggressive stance by the federal government, even the judge has expressed skepticism that Lynch deserves prison time." Elford argued at an April 23rd hearing that no hard evidence of state law violations had been brought by the government, despite such allegations made by U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien. In response to a request by Judge Wu for written clarification on the government's new medical marijuana policy, the Deputy Attorney General's office responded that Lynch's case was unaffected.
What: Sentencing hearing for medical marijuana provider Charles C. Lynch
Thursday, June 11th at 9:30am
Los Angeles Federal Court, 312 N. Spring Street, Courtroom 10
Senator Obama's campaign promise that he was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws" on medical marijuana was followed up with more nuanced statements by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department would still "go after those people who violate both federal and state law." Confusion around the government's policy ensued as several medical marijuana providers were raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) even after President Obama took office.

Responding to this confusion, Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) requested clarification Tuesday within the Commerce, Justice and Science Departments (CJS) Appropriations bill. "It's imperative that the federal government respect states' rights and stay out of the way of patients with debilitating diseases such as cancer who are using medical marijuana in accordance with state law to alleviate their pain," said Hinchey in a press release issued Tuesday. "We applaud Congressman Hinchey's leadership on this issue and his attempt to restrict interference by the federal government in medical marijuana states," said Caren Woodson, ASA's Director of Government Affairs.

"Lynch's case is only one of more than two dozen pending federal cases," said Elford. "If the federal government believes these cases involve violations of state law, then they should allow them to be decided in the state courts." Because of the June 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, federal medical marijuana defendants are prohibited from entering evidence related to medical marijuana or their compliance with local and state laws. Advocates are demanding that the federal government cease such prosecutions or remove them to state court where evidence can properly be heard.

Before his medical marijuana dispensary was raided by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in March of 2007, Lynch had operated for 11 months without incident, and with the blessing of the Morro Bay 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 constitute violations of local or state law.

Further information:
DOJ Response to Judge Wu's request for clarification: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/DOJ_Lynch_Response.pdf
Charles C. Lynch Interview with John Stossel: http://www.friendsofccl.com/johnstossel.htm
Friends of Charles C. Lynch website: http://www.friendsofccl.com

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