Prison, House Arrest for Couple Who Grew Medical Marijuana

Los Angeles

0pt'>– Despite pleas for leniency from the patients they served and the city officials with whom they worked, U.S. District U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz today sentenced a director of a West Hollywood medical marijuana dispensary to 6 months of house arrest and one-year of probation, while sentencing her husband to federal prison for a year and a day. The extra day makes him eligible for time off for good behavior.

The Ventura County couple, Judy Osburn, 50, one of the directors of the center, and her husband, Lynn, a 54-year-old Vietnam veteran, had pleaded guilty to charges of “Maintaining a Place for the Manufacture of Marijuana,” which were related to the marijuana they grew to treat their own medical conditions. They had also helped provide marijuana to the 960 seriously ill patients being served by the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center (LACRC) at the time of the DEA raid that shut it in November 2001. They both plan an appeal and have asked that Lynn Osburn be allowed to remain free on bond pending its outcome, a request that Judge Matz granted.

“The Bush Administration is wasting resources locking up medical marijuana patients and caregivers,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. “These people have devoted their lives to helping others. They should be getting medals, not shackles.”

Under the terms of an unusual plea agreement, the Osburns were able to both take full legal responsibility for their work on behalf of the LACRC, a dispensary that was a model of openness and cooperation with local officials and law enforcement, and yet still appeal their convictions. The agreement includes a recommendation from federal prosecutors that they remain free on bail while awaiting that appeal. The case is No. CR-02-939-AHM.

While Judge Matz had ruled that the Osburns would be unable to tell a jury at trial that they were growing marijuana for the sick and dying, or present any witnesses to testify about their cooperation with local officials and law enforcement, or even mention California’s law legalizing marijuana for medical use – all that was introduced at their sentencing, during which the Osburns argued for a reduction from guidelines calling for up to 37 months in prison.

Defense attorney William Panzer argued that there was “less harm” in the Osburns breaking the federal prohibition on marijuana than in allowing the sick and dying to suffer. He also asked Judge Matz to consider the substantial amount of time the Osburns spent in custody before being able to post bond. Judy was held for one month and Lynn for five months after federal agents raided their remote Ventura County ranch and arrested them on August 13, 2002. At the time of their arrest, the Osburns were growing only a small garden for their personal medical use, an activity that a federal appeals court has found to be excluded from the federal prohibition.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Raich v. Ashcroft that so long as patients obtain their marijuana without buying it or crossing state borders and use it medicinally in compliance with state law, the federal government cannot legally interfere with either them or their caregivers. That ruling was the first time a court found the federal ban unconstitutional.

Late last year Judge Matz had rebuked the U.S. Attorney’s office in sentencing three other defendants associated with the LACRC. He placed three other LACRC directors on one-year probation after praising their work.

LACRC worked so closely with the City of West Hollywood that the city had helped buy the building they used, and a city councilman served as the center’s attorney. The LACRC had even applied in 1999 for a license to grow marijuana for medical research and taken DEA investigators on a tour. That application was cited as the basis for the raid.

                                                     # # #                       

For more information, contact William Dolphin (510) 919-1498. A national coalition of 10,000 patients, doctors and advocates, Americans for Safe Access is the largest organization working solely on medical marijuana.