Pubdate: Tue, 24 Mar 2009
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: A13
Copyright: 2009 The New York Times Company
Author: Rebecca Cathcart


LOS ANGELES - A federal judge here Monday postponed the sentencing of 
a man convicted of running a medical marijuana dispensary and asked 
the Department of Justice to clarify its revised position on such cases.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said last week that federal 
authorities would not seek to prosecute medical marijuana 
dispensaries if the operations complied with state and local laws, a 
departure from the Bush administration policy that federal narcotics 
laws held sway. California is one of 13 states that allow the growth 
and sales of medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

"The judge said this statement raises more questions than it 
answers," said Reuven Cohen, a lawyer for the defendant, Charles 
Lynch. "He said he needed an explanation, and he needed it from the 
Department of Justice, not the local prosecutor."

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the United States attorney in Los 
Angeles, said that he could not comment on the specifics of the 
request by Judge George H. Wu, but that prosecutors "do believe that 
Mr. Lynch violated state law."

Last August, a jury convicted Mr. Lynch on five counts related to 
running a dispensary and selling medical marijuana to customers under 
21, considered minors under a federal statute that prohibits the sale 
of marijuana and other narcotics to minors. Mr. Lynch faces a minimum 
sentence of five years in federal prison.

The case has been widely followed by medical marijuana advocates 
since Mr. Lynch was arrested after a 2007 raid on his dispensary in 
Morro Bay, Calif.

Video from the local news in 2006 shows Mr. Lynch celebrating the 
dispensary's opening. He is seen shaking hands with the mayor and 
flanked by local business leaders holding a banner emblazoned with 
"Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce."

Supporters of Mr. Lynch came to the federal courthouse in downtown 
Los Angeles on Monday, but Judge Wu's announcement was not cause for 
relief, Mr. Cohen said.

"He's scared," Mr. Cohen said of Mr. Lynch. "He's an engineer with no 
criminal record. In a million years, he never thought that this is 
where he'd be."

Mr. Cohen said Mr. Lynch "has not violated any state laws."

Prosecutors convicted Mr. Lynch under federal statutes last summer. 
The issue of state law was not raised in the trial, Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Mrozek said Monday that Mr. Lynch had violated state laws by 
selling marijuana for use by minors. "But this case involves a 
violation of federal law," Mr. Mrozek said, "and that's really all 
that matters."

Mr. Mrozek said both sides would have a conference with Judge Wu on 
Friday, but prosecutors may not have a filing from the Department of 
Justice by then. The sentencing hearing has been postponed until April 30. 
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