Pubdate: Sat, 21 Mar 2009
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Page: 12A
Copyright: 2009 The Sacramento Bee
Note: Rarely publishes letters from outside its circulation area.
Author: Rob Hotakainen
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


WASHINGTON - After California legalized medical marijuana, Charles 
Lynch opened his cannabis dispensary nearly two years ago in Morro 
Bay, getting a license from the city and joining the Chamber of Commerce.

Even the mayor showed up for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

One year later, U.S. drug enforcement agents raided his business. Now 
Lynch is worried that he will get a minimum of five years in prison 
when he's sentenced in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday for 
five counts of distributing marijuana. Whatever happens, Lynch said, 
he will appeal.

"I don't feel like I deserve going through life as a convicted felon 
for doing things the state of California allowed me to do," he said.

The nation's medical marijuana users are breathing a little easier 
these days, confident that such stories will soon be a thing of the past.

At news conferences last month and again on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney 
General Eric Holder said there will be no more federal prosecutions 
of cases involving medical cannabis dispensaries. He said they would 
be left alone as long as they comply with state laws.

Medical marijuana advocates, saying President Barack Obama kept a 
promise he made on the campaign trail, predict the issue will soon 
leave the public realm of politics and become a private issue between 
doctors and patients.

Holder said the new policy will be "to go after those who violate 
both federal and state law."

"To the extent that people do that and try and use medical marijuana 
laws for activity that is not designed to comport with what the 
intention was of a state law - those are the organizations or people 
who we'll target," Holder told reporters. "And that's consistent with 
what the president said during the campaign."

The decision affects California and 12 other states that have 
legalized marijuana for medical purposes: Washington, Oregon, Nevada, 
Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan, Vermont, Maine, Rhode 
Island, Alaska and Hawaii.

Democratic Rep. Lois Capps of Santa Barbara, who lobbied the new 
administration on the issue, called it "a welcomed shift" in federal 
policy, saying the administration of George W. Bush "foolishly wasted 
precious federal resources" to prosecute law-abiding health care providers.

Holder said his department has limited resources and that its focus 
will be on people and organizations growing or cultivating 
"substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that's 
inconsistent with federal law and state law."

Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy 
Alliance, said the new policy will protect millions of Americans who 
benefit from the medicinal properties of marijuana.

"Under the Obama administration, the federal government may finally 
be recovering from a long bout with 'reefer madness,' " he said.

Any change in policy comes too late for Lynch, 46, who has already 
been convicted. He said he began using marijuana for medicinal 
purposes in 2005, when he was suffering bad headaches. He said the 
drug helped but he had to drive a long way to get it.

Eventually, Lynch said, he began researching medical cannabis on the 
Internet and decided to open his own dispensary. He said he received 
nothing but support from Morro Bay officials, with the city attorney 
and City Council members stopping by.

"Everybody liked the way I had set up the business," Lynch said, 
except for the Drug Enforcement Administration. "They came in, they 
took everything. They froze my bank accounts. They began their 
propaganda war machine against me. They made it sound like I was 
selling drugs to children out in the schoolyard."

Federal authorities said Lynch used his business, the Central Coast 
Compassionate Caregivers marijuana store, as a front for a supersized 
retail drug-dealing center that sold more than $2.1 million in 
marijuana over a one-year period.

The customers included undercover DEA agents who paid from two to 
three times the street value for their marijuana, authorities said. A 
local doctor was also indicted for writing marijuana recommendations 
for minors without conducting any physical evaluations.

Lynch's case is igniting debate over how far the government should go 
in either prosecuting or ignoring medical marijuana dispensaries.

Capps said the case "is an example of a big conflict" because he was 
operating his business with the full authority of the California 
government but was then prosecuted under federal law.

Federal law, which supersedes state laws, makes the distribution of 
marijuana a crime and offers no exceptions for medical use.

Gold River Republican Rep. Dan Lungren, a member of the House 
Judiciary Committee, said the Obama administration should back a 
large-scale research project on medicinal marijuana before changing 
U.S. policy. And he questioned whether the administration can pick 
and choose which laws to enforce.

"I wonder if you can just turn around policy like that if there is 
not a change in the law that you are supposed to enforce," said 
Lungren, who served as California's attorney general when voters 
approved the state's medical marijuana law in 1996. "As far as I can 
see, there hasn't been a change in the law passed by the Congress."

Freshman Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California's 4th District 
said he applauded Holder's decision and that the federal government 
should step aside.

"I think wherever you stand on marijuana laws, it's clearly a state's 
decision to make," McClintock said. "And the people of California 
made it. I've never believed that the federal government had the 
right to regulate intrastate commerce."

Lynch isn't sure what to expect when he's sentenced on Monday. He's 
not familiar with breaking the law.

"I've got a spotless record," he said. "I've never even had a DUI. 
The only thing on my record is a seat-belt violation here in the 
state of California."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom