Medical pot shop owner facing 100 years
July 18, 2008
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
Charles C. Lynch sits in his South County home this weekend awaiting the start of a trial that poses for him the threat of a century in federal prison for doing what he thought was the right thing.
The parents of a San Luis Obispo County youth suffering from bone cancer agree with Lynch, as does a legion of supporters.
Not agreeing? San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Pat Hedges, and the federal government.
Lynch, former owner of a licensed Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary, was at his business March 27, 2007, when he was visited by a joint team of well-armed and flak-jacketed San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s deputies and federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents. They collected his inventory but made no arrest. Lynch reopened the business “with the blessing of the landlord and city officials,” he would later say.
The landlord would later report pressure from DEA authorities, and Lynch was forced to close in May 2007. He was arrested two months later, a first for Lynch. The Arroyo Grande man’s trial for marijuana sales starts Tuesday in U.S. District Court at 8 p.m. in Courtroom 10.
The business Lynch was operating is legal under California law. Federal law, however, views cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug and U.S. drug agents have demonstrated a tendency to enforce pot laws vigorously. Rulings on pre-trial motions have determined that jurors hearing Lynch’s case will not be told that he was running a compassionate marijuana business, properly and under California law. Instead, prosecutors will charge that Lynch is a drug king-pin who faces enhanced charges of selling the drug to a minor.
During a brief telephone conversation with Lynch Friday, a reporter could hear young children laughing and chattering in the background. Lynch referred all questions to his attorney, federal public defender Reven Cohen.
Lynch will begin his trial knowing that somewhere between the smiles, handshakes, and backslaps from city officials and Morro Bay business owners welcoming his business in 2006 came “the tip” – information and an invitation provided to federal drug enforcement authorities by Sheriff Hedges.
Hedges has said repeatedly that he is required to follow federal law because it preempts state regulation. The sheriff recently attempted to keep a few grams of medical marijuana confiscated from a county man who possessed a prescription from a physician. Though Hedges eventually gave the pot back to its owner after being threatened by a local judge, he remained adamant about his position. Hedges wrote in March to UncoveredSLO.com that he has “heard the argument that I am not required to enforce federal law. I would simply ask if I am required to comply with federal law. My opinion is that I am. I would hope that you would agree.”
Hedges added, “As sheriff, I retain all options that any other individual has as far as exercising my right to appeal.” He wondered “what law authorizes me to engage in the distribution of a controlled substance? It is my opinion that the legal system should be given an opportunity to answer the issues as they deal with distribution.”
Lynch faces enhanced sales charges because he sold medical pot to Owen Beck, a young athlete whose leg was amputated after physicians found cancer. With his parents’ permission, and after trying everything that contemporary medicine could provide, Beck turned to the medical marijuana dispensary for help. At that time, he was 17 and accompanied by his father.
Beck and his parents had reason to feel confidence in Lynch’s shop; Lynch was a member in good standing of the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce, and had the endorsement and support of a wide variety of local officials and fellow business owners.
Beck said he found comfort with the pot for the first time since his disease had been diagnosed and his leg taken.
The story of Beck and Lynch has been told in a short documentary on reason.tv, narrated by television star and comedian Drew Carey.