Legal counsel for the advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access (ASA) will appear on behalf of Charles C. Lynch at his federal sentencing hearing on Thursday, April 23rd to challenge the federal government's claim of state law violations. Even though defendants are prevented from using a medical marijuana defense in federal court, they can argue state law compliance at sentencing. ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford will argue that Lynch in no way violated state law, something that U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien has alleged in his sentencing recommendations.
At Lynch's previously scheduled sentencing hearing on March 23rd, federal district court Judge George H. Wu asked for written clarification from the U.S. Attorney General as to whether recent statements by that office would impact Lynch's sentencing. In a brief filed Friday, U.S. Attorney O'Brien stated that "the Deputy Attorney General has reviewed the facts of this case and determined that the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of defendant are entirely consistent with the policies of DOJ and with public statements made by the Attorney General with respect to marijuana prosecutions." Lynch's sentencing, which was originally postponed until April 30th, was changed by Judge Wu to April 23rd.
"It's bad enough that the Justice Department is accusing Lynch of violating state law in order to sentence him in federal court," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "But, there is not even any evidence that state law was violated." Despite a March 2008 public statement by then-Senator Obama that he was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws" on medical marijuana, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has since stated that the DOJ would still "go after those people who violate both federal and state law."
Advocates contend that the federal government should not even be prosecuting violations of state medical marijuana law. "It's disingenuous to accuse people of state law violations and then prosecute them under federal law, thereby denying them an adequate defense in federal court," continued Elford. 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. With more than two dozen pending federal medical marijuana cases, advocates are demanding that the government cease prosecutions or remove them to state court where evidence can properly be heard.
Defense attorneys are seeking time served for Lynch, but he faces a mandatory minimum of 6 years and the possibility of up to 20 years in federal prison. 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.
Read the Opposing Views debate, Should Medical Marijuana be Federally Legalized?