U.S. District Judge Wants to Avoid Mandatory Five-Year TermA federal judge has again postponed sentencing of a California man convicted of operating a city-licensed medical cannabis dispensary. ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford was among those who appeared on behalf of Charles Lynch at the hearing.
The plight of Charles Lynch has become a focal point for the national debate over medical marijuana, with local officials, patients, and advocates pleading for leniency, while federal prosecutors demand a five-year prison sentence. Defense attorneys have asked that Lynch be sentenced to time already served - the four days he was held before posting bond.
"If I could find a way out, I would," U.S. District Judge George H. Wu said. He gave attorneys until June 2 to file new sentencing briefs.
The sentencing was first delayed after defense attorneys asked Judge Wu to take into consideration the new federal policy on medical marijuana. The judge asked for written clarification from the Department of Justice as to whether the changes would impact Lynch's sentencing, but prosecutors filed a brief saying that it would not.
At the latest sentencing hearing, prosecutors said Lynch was not legally entitled to distribute marijuana under state law because he was not a "primary caregiver" and that he profited from his business.
That view was refuted by ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who briefed the court on the state legislature's clarification of the law and the new state Attorney General guidelines, which both contain provisions specific to the legal operation of cannabis dispensing collectives of the sort Lynch operated.
"It's time for the Obama Administration to act on its commitment to change federal medical marijuana policy," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "It's disingenuous to accuse people of state law violations and then prosecute them under federal law, thereby denying them an adequate defense."
Lynch, 47, ran a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay, California from 2006 to 2007 and with the blessing of the Morro Bay City Council, the local Chamber of Commerce, and other community leaders.
Before his medical marijuana dispensary was raided by DEA agents in March of 2007, Lynch had operated for 11 months without incident. After a federal trial that excluded evidence about state law and the patients he was helping, Lynch was convicted of violating federal drug laws last year.