Charles Lynch, a medical marijuana provider from Morro Bay, CA,
operated Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers (CCCC) with the
approval of the Morro Bay City Council and the local Chamber of
Commerce. The dispensing collective operated for 11 months without
incident, before being raided by federal agents on March 29, 2007.
Lynch was not arrested at the time of the raid and reopened the
dispensary soon after. The DEA then threatened Lynch’s landlord with
the forfeiture of his property unless he evicted Lynch. As a result of
this intimidation, CCCC was permanently shut down on May 16, 2007. Two
months after the closure of the dispensary, Lynch 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 premise, and sales of
marijuana to a person under the age of 21.
During his trial, Lynch was prevented from calling to the stand one of his patients in order to refute his charge of selling marijuana to someone under 21. Owen Beck, who was a 17-year old bone cancer survivor at the time, obtained medical marijuana from CCCC when accompanied by his parents, a requirement of the Morro Bay business regulations. However, because of the 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. Lynch was convicted in August of 2008, without the benefit of a medical marijuana defense, and now faces between five and twenty years in prison.
Judge Wu pushed back Lynch's sentencing date once again to June 11, 2009. Wu seemed committed to at least a one-year mandatory minimum for selling marijuana to a minor, but expressed some willingness to reconsider a five-year mandatory minimum based on Lynch's belief that his conduct was legal. Among other details, Wu asked both parties to brief him on what other options he had besides having Lynch serve his time in jail.
On June 11, 2009, Judge Wu found that Lynch's case merited an exception to the five year mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and sentenced Lynch to one year in prison and four years of supervised release. Despit indications of a new policy on medical marijuana, the Justice Department refused to agree with defense attorneys' contentions that Lynch deserved a sentence of time served. Lynch is currently out on bail pending his appeal and is not allowed to use medical marijuana according to the terms of his release.