Commentary: Marijuana and the badge

September 7, 2008


When the sheriff came to town, backed by countless federal agents, to roust a legitimate, city-approved business, we could all breathe a huge sigh of relief.

No more squirrelly riff-raff posing as patients to get their marijuana fix. No more “medical” marijuana dispensaries in San Luis Obispo County. No more respect for community-based values and standards in which local citizens govern themselves.

We commend the sheriff for taking federal law into his own hands and doing the job he wasn’t given to do—busting someone who wasn’t a threat to the community.

The sheriff, and the feds, got their man, wanted for distribution of large quantities of marijuana, perhaps forgetting that California State Law recognizes a patient’s “right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes.”

Once again, according to the sheriff, we’re safe from dangerous criminals like Charles Lynch committing heinous acts right under our noses—providing medical marijuana to people whose doctors recommend it.

A prolonged “criminal” investigation by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department helped the federally funded Drug Enforcement Agency put Morro Bay’s only legal proprietor of medical marijuana into the slammer.

Lynch, a compassionate caregiver recently convicted in federal court for the sale of marijuana, faces up to 100 years in a federal penitentiary—a punishment that certainly fits the crime.

Sheriff Patrick Hedges reportedly conducted a prolonged and extensive stakeout of the green drug store in Morro Bay, whose citizens had already welcomed the business and embraced Mr. Lynch as one of their own.

The sheriff, ignoring community standards and its support of the dispensary, apparently sent one of his own investigators to pose as a patient to catch Lynch in the act of selling drugs.

He also reportedly employed paid informants with criminal records to bust Lynch and shut down the dispensary, despite the fact that he was operating within state and local laws.

Sheriff Hedges’ dogged pursuit of Lynch paid off. Lynch awaits Oct. 20 sentencing with the possibility of spending the rest of his life in federal prison—and the dispensary is long gone.

All this with funding presumably made possible through local tax dollars. It’s also possible the sheriff had access to funding from the feds, but we’ll never know because, as sheriff’s spokesman Rob Bryn notes, the department doesn’t “keep track of those kinds of figures.”

SLO County citizens, concerned about how their local tax dollars are spent, need to ask the sheriff: How much did you spend? Was it worth it? And, as SLO Attorney Lou Koory, who early represented Lynch, asked recently: “How does this serve the community interest?”

As citizens who pay the sheriff’s salary, we also have to ask: Why are SLO County’s tax dollars being spent to aid the feds?

Marijuana, of course, is listed as a dangerous drug by the federal government, and it’s therefore a crime to possess, sell or transport the hazardous contraband anywhere in the United States. Tons of money and resources go into the fight against marijuana growing and trafficking.

Basically, it’s the job of federal agents to conduct that fight, especially in the 13 states, including California, that have legalized marijuana for medical use.

But not here, and in a few other small communities across the country, where local law enforcement have chosen to run with the feds, and make marijuana drug busts their business too.

Local law enforcement, such as the San Luis Obispo Police and the county sheriff, have argued that they’re in a quandary, left with no choice but to enforce federal law or run into trouble with the higher agencies tasked with eliminating the dangerous marijuana drug.

Hence, you have lawmen like Sheriff Hedges who see it as their sworn duty to use local resources to conduct the business of the federal government.

But is it the task of local law enforcement, using local tax dollars, to perform this service on behalf of the feds?

“We get this question a lot,” says Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access [ASA], a grassroots organization “advancing legal medical marijuana therapeutics and research,” which has been closely monitoring Lynch’s case and reviewing Hedges’ actions.

“Unfortunately,” Elford adds, “it’s not uncommon” for dispensaries go to down with the aid of local lawmen like Hedges whose job is presumably to enforce state and local laws.

The sheriff, Elford continues, probably didn’t do anything illegal in pursuing Lynch, although the organization is considering filing a lawsuit against him; Hedges’ pursuit of Lynch is “more morally objectionable than anything else. …It’s a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”

Muted protests have gone up about the sheriff’s role in this latest bust, and one former patient of the dispensary is suing the department for invasion of privacy.

All patients’ health records from the dispensary were confiscated and hauled away, a potential violation of federal law, which protects an individual’s medical history.

As far as we know, the sheriff never proved to a judge that he had probable cause to invade and shut down the dispensary. No local judge that we know of granted such a warrant. The sheriff also did not consult local authorities before notifying the DEA about Lynch.

We do know that he assisted the DEA under a federal warrant to take down Lynch and the medical marijuana dispensary, and that a model Morro Bay businessman may go to prison because of it.

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at

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Member Opinions:

By: bobfromsanluis on 9/13/08

Spin Zone: Yes.

By: bobfromsanluis on 9/12/08

SpinZone: Thanks for the welcome. Since this is supposed to be a free country, I will come here as often as I like, and post what I like. I do wonder how it is individuals who seem to have anger issues always feel the need to try and control the situation. Control freak maybe? As to the content of this thread: Sheriff Hedges should be recalled. As a county sheriff, he has absolutely no business spending county dollars doing the legwork for a federal bust. He illegally videotaped an employee of his, his department should have excercised more authority of the fair grounds during the Mid-State Fair. It seems as if Sheriff Hedges has little regard for following the letter of the law, or the intention of the law, if he doesn't agree with the law. Abuse of authority. Ignoring California State Law. The county Supervisors seem to have no power over him, and the only recourse is with the voters. Recall would seem to be the best option. At least if there was a vote on a recall, if he were not recalled, the will of the majority of voters would be respected. I suspect that he would be removed from office though.

By: bobfromsanluis on 9/11/08

SpinZoner: So why do you even listen to Dave Congalton? Can't you get the signal for 1240am so you can listen to more of your preferred drivel? Maybe you should just read a book instead.

kenfield: Perhaps you should volunteer to step up and write or edit or attempt to make a "good" website? Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can do neither spend their time complaining about how badly those who can actually do. feh.

By: kenfield on 9/10/08

Vagabond: Yeah, "Rouge" is right. Maybe we can look forward to such hard-hitting Rouge-esque exposes as "What's it like to be a hot chick?" But on the web, the benefit of increased air circulation from dozens of readers turning the page past Warde's superfluous monthly rant is lost.

It might be better if CalCoastNews found people who can: write, edit, make a good website.

By: kenfield on 9/10/08

NoSynapseZone: Maybe you should start your own O'Reilly clone on local radio. It'd probably be (unintentionally) funnier than Colbert.

By: Vagabond on 9/9/08

I liked the Rouge Voice and I'm happy Stacy has found a new outlet.

Keep up the good work, the more voices, the better.

By: kenfield on 9/9/08

Even if Stacey Warde is self-evidently right on this issue (and straw men are easy prey), I agree with other readers: I hope Warde's self-indulgent, pretentious, uninteresting writing isn't going to be a regular feature. The Rogue Voice failed for a reason.

(And I sure hope you're going to bring in someone with some web design skills — even a smart twelve-year-old could improve the site as it is now.)

By: Joe on 9/8/08

Seems like selective memory.

By: Cacahuate on 9/8/08

Was it outside the Sheriff's job duties when the security guard working at CCCC sold pounds of weed to an undercover detective? Do you think that was an isolated incident, or could that sort of greed driven transaction been one of many, that ruined the operation in Morro Bay for those who truly beneift from marijuana use, and therefore got the Sheriff involved in this case? Or, has that been conveniently forgotten about for the sake of legitimizing what was an illegal marijuana selling operation from the get go.

By: whoisjohngalt on 9/8/08

Joe's comment is a thoughtful, nuanced approach to the medical marijuana question. Stacy Ward's…well, what does one call it…editorial, screed, rant(?), is a better fit for the Rogue Voice than for CalCoast.

This site would be better served by having Joe write the articles, and having Stacy comment.

By: Joe on 9/8/08

I said decriminalized, not legal.

By: Paso_Guy on 9/8/08

Rogue Voice huh. No wonder the EFI crowd stayed behind

By: Joe on 9/8/08

Does pot help?

I'm sure it does. I'm sure it helps people deal with major medical issues like cancer, cachexia, advanced AIDS, epilepsy, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.

Basically if you'd get morphine, you can also get pot.

Is depression or anxiety a real reason to prescribe pot? Crohn's disease?

Should a Dr. write a script for morphine to treat depression?

The CA law is open to interpretation allowing Dr.s to prescribe it for any illness they think marijuana may help.

I blame the Dr.s who abuse the compasionate care acts which are privilege to California and several other states.

Dispensary's have their own saint to thank for their troubles, not Brownie Mary but Larry.

Larry Kristich made an estimated $95 million in sales through his chain of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Medical marijuana cannot be sold for a profit under the CA law.

Larry was making $$ and didn't keep it a secret about toys and property even having the foresight to buy himself a nice place outside the US and outside the reach of extradition. Larry is off somewhere with Whitey Bulger last I saw

Abuse of the spirit of the law is part of why Lynch is being made an example of.

State and local agencies get federal grants, which are in competition since cuts were made this past spring that will start to be felt about now (fall).

Check the guidelines, allocations and how a "pass through" works.

To get money from Uncle Sam, you need to show results. Results at the Federal level include pot.

Pot is on Santa's bad list with the heavies, heroin, coke/crack, meth, extacy.

Is it the SLO sheriffs job to find your local meth lab? Yup. As far as the federal monies go, it's all the same.

The other part of Lynch being made example of maybe looked at as 'low hanging fruit' for local law enforcement.

You know the story about cops, quotas and speeding tickets, same story here.

It may not be in your job description to wash the windows, but your boss will notice that you took the initiative.

It may not be in the sheriffs job description, but his uncle appreciates the gesture and is rewarded for it.

Pot, is illegal.

No argument.

No gray areas.

Black and white.

Pot, is illegal.

The laws are arcane?

Then quit whining.

Work to change them whichever way you see fit.

Once that is established, then you can go after the local authorities for how they spend our time and money.

For now, they are doing their job.

My opinion is that ALL drugs should be decriminalized, standardized and avalable for purchase in a regulated manner under government regulation and taxation.

Just like alcohol.