Monday, June 22, 2009

Compassionate caregiver or big time drug dealer?

Charles C. Lynch, a former California compassionate caregiver and owner of Morro Bay’s medical marijuana dispensary, was sentenced in federal court June 11 to a prison term of one year, one day for selling large quantities of marijuana.

In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge George H. Wu, avoiding the minimum mandatory five-year prison term for “conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana,” appeared to sympathize with Lynch.

According to an Associated Press report, Wu said: “As empathetic as I can be I cannot change the law.”
Under Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana, like heroin, is listed as a dangerous drug. Thirteen states, however, have legalized the drug for medical uses.

For now, Lynch remains free pending appeal of his case before the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, Lynch, who posted $400,000 bail using his mother’s home as collateral, filed for bankruptcy and has been looking for work in the two years since the federal government shut down his legally operated business.
“It’s hard enough with the economy the way it is,” Lynch said of his job search in a telephone interview, “but it’s even more difficult when you’re a convicted felon.”

Welcomed by Morro Bay’s city officials and chamber of commerce when he opened in April 2006, Lynch was careful to run his Compassionate Caregivers medical marijuana dispensary in compliance with state and local law. To his later dismay, he even contacted the Drug Enforcement Administration for assurance and was told that he would be left alone. It may have been that call, he later said, that led to his troubles.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Patrick Hedges, meanwhile, viewed Lynch as another common crook, and assigned undercover detectives to surveillance Lynch’s dispensary.
Unable to obtain a warrant from a local judge, Sheriff Hedges went after Lynch with help from the DEA, which raided the dispensary March 27, 2007. It could be argued that Hedges went after Lynch with prejudice, ignoring community standards, and state and local law.

Lynch, who wasn’t arrested until later, claims that when he and his staff returned to the dispensary after the raid, they found a message from law enforcement that said: “All hippies die.”

Convicted last summer on five counts, including selling marijuana to a minor, Lynch said: “I shouldn’t be a convicted felon for things the state of California and the city of Morro Bay allowed me to do.”

The minor, in fact, was 17-year-old bone cancer patient Owen Beck, whose parents recommended the treatment when prescription medications failed to help him recover from chemotherapy and a leg that had been amputated from the knee down.
Beck, said his parents in an interview with Drew Carey of, was unable to get out of bed and start walking again until he started using medical marijuana.

The federal government, meanwhile, has tried to portray Lynch as a big time drug dealer, rather than a compassionate caregiver, “selling large quantities of marijuana.” The court wouldn’t even allow the use of the term “medical” in its deliberations. Beck was removed from the stand and his testimony stricken from the record when he inadvertently said “medical” to describe his relationship to Lynch.

There was no way for Lynch to mount a fair defense.

Commentators have said the case is a classic state’s rights issue, and that Lynch, for good or ill, has become the poster child for medical marijuana, and that the turn of events, including the injustice of Lynch’s sentencing, will likely result in changes in federal legislation.

In fact, the issue is more about a patient’s right to obtain medicine, and unfortunately, Lynch has paid a high price to be the figurehead for changing federal laws that regulate marijuana. In February, newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder assured us that the Department of Justice would cease arrests and prosecutions of medical marijuana dispensary owners who were in compliance with state and local laws.

In response, Judge Wu twice asked the DOJ for guidance in the sentencing of Lynch and was basically told to proceed as planned.

Meanwhile, the DEA appears to continue unabated its pursuit of nonviolent, non-threatening dispensary owners while headless bodies—victims of Mexico’s violent drug cartels—turn up at the border. It’s easy to see why medical marijuana dispensaries, rich in cash and other assets, have become targets in the federal government’s war on drugs.

Dispensary owners seeking to abide by state and local laws are less likely to be as dangerous as real criminals who traffic drugs in the U.S.
The feds seized Lynch’s business assets as well as patients’ health records, shuttered his dispensary, and eliminated access to medical marijuana for patients like Beck who were benefiting from the drug.

Lynch, pending appeal, faces one year, one day in federal prison. That’s one year, one day too much. §

Friday, June 19, 2009

Garden Grove loses medical marijuana fight

Today’s Orange County Register reported on Garden Grove’s extended legal battle over medical marijuana, which has cost the city close to $250,000.

Apparently the city’s police refused to return about eight grams of herb they confiscated from a patient who didn’t have his doctor’s note.

After Felix Kha produced the appropriate documents, he demanded that the police return his medicine. They refused, arguing that it was against federal law.

The city this week paid $139,000 in attorney’s fees as part of a settlement with Americans for Safe Access, which represented Kha. That was in addition to more than $100,000 the city spent arguing that federal law trumps California’s medical marijuana law.

“It’s unfortunate that the City of Garden Grove felt it necessary to challenge the rights of patients in California by spending more than a quarter of a million dollars to refuse to return medical marijuana worth approximately two hundred dollars,” said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access. “Nevertheless, this should force local officials to better uphold medical marijuana patients’ rights under the law.”

When the case was before the appellate court, the California Attorney General filed a “friend of the court” brief on Kha’s behalf. Several law enforcement associations, according to ASA, responded with briefs in support of Garden Grove, challenging the state’s medical marijuana law.

The city appealed both the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to review the decision.

“Medical marijuana advocates are hailing this landmark decision and today’s settlement for attorneys fees as a huge victory that underscores law enforcement’s obligation to uphold state law,” Elford said. “Better adherence to state medical marijuana laws by local police will result in fewer needless arrests and seizures, and will allow for better implementation of those laws not only in California, but in all medical marijuana states.” §

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rep. Lois Capps responds

It appears that Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) has done more than pay lip service to protecting the proprietors of medical marijuana dispensaries.

In response to an inquiry from news talk radio host Dave Congalton (, Communications Director Emily Kryder points out that Lois has “actually been praised by a number of medical marijuana advocacy groups for her leadership on this issue” (see Americans for Safe Access Now). Kryder adds that in a February letter to newly appointed Attorney General Eric Holder, Capps asked that the Department of Justice “suspend enforcement actions against law abiding medical marijuana dispensaries in California.”

The letter, Kryder notes, indicates that several dispensaries in Capps’ district had been threatened with legal action from federal prosecutors from the Central District of California, “despite operating in compliance with local regulations, state law and the [state] Attorney General’s guidelines.”

Soon after receiving Capps’ letter, Kryder says, U.S. Attorney General Holder suspended the Bush Administration’s aggressive policy against medical marijuana, and put a halt to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrests and prosecutions of “healthcare providers who legally operate medical marijuana dispensaries under state and local laws.”

Capps, says Krdyer, has also “supported the Hinchey/Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment when it has come up for a vote during the appropriations. This amendment would prohibit the DEA from using federal funding to pursue healthcare providers from legally dispensing medical marijuana.”

In regard to Lynch, Kryder adds: “Interestingly, to our knowledge neither Mr. Lynch nor his attorney has ever contacted the Congresswoman’s office to request assistance or information about his case or any other issue. For obvious reasons, the Congresswoman doesn’t normally involve herself in her constituents’ legal matters, and that would especially be the case if the constituent has never even made a request for assistance."

It's possible, Kryder noted during a telephone interview, that Lynch, who is a resident of Arroyo Grande, may in fact be represented by Rep. Kevin McMcarthy (R-CA) of the 22nd district. §

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hello, Lois? Congresswoman Capps?

I had the opportunity to go on the air with Dave Congalton of news talk radio in San Luis Obispo last night to discuss Thursday’s federal sentencing of Charles C. Lynch of Arroyo Grande. Judge George Wu, as you probably know, sentenced Morro Bay’s former medical marijuana dispensary owner to one year, one day in federal prison.

Even Judge Wu seemed to recognize the injustice of it. Unfortunately, his hands are tied and Mr. Lynch now faces prison time.

Meanwhile, there’s been little or no response from Mr. Lynch's Congresswoman, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), who represents the state's 23rd disctrict, which includes Santa Barbara. Where is she? One of her own constituents, whose story is now national news, has from all appearances received no support from his representative.

A number of listeners called in and expressed their disappointment with Lois for not taking the lead on this issue and failing to:
  1. Speak out on Charles C. Lynch’s behalf
  2. Introduce legislation to change federal laws that fail to recognize “medical marijuana”
  3. Speak out in defense of patients’ rights in safely accessing doctor prescribed medical marijuana
  4. Urge the appropriate House committees (Judiciary?) to put a check on the DEA from raiding dispensaries

Now would be a really good time for her to step up to the plate and take a leadership role on medical marijuana, and aid Mr. Lynch in his defense against unjust federal law.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where's Al, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize?

Nobel Peace Prize and Academy Award winner Al Gore has been strangely silent during the tragic saga of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, American journalists recently sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in a North Korean gulag.

The two women on assignment for Current TV, an outfit founded by Gore, were accused of “grave crimes” (illegally entering the country) by the repressive regime. News reports inform us that North Korea's prison system is so brutal that only half of the people who enter it come out alive.

Reports about how the women were captured are mostly speculative, some experts claiming that they may have been apprehended by the North Koreans while working from China’s side of the border. They were working on a story about North Korea's
trade in human trafficking.

They were detained mid-March, nearly three months ago, but not a word from Gore, whose international clout as a former U.S. Vice President—and as a recipient of a Nobel Prize—ought to be enough for him to come publicly to their defense.

Gore's silence is deafening.

In addition to clout—both as statesman and recipient of one of the world's highest honors—it would seem that Gore, as founder of the outfit these women work for, has a basic responsibility to go public and assure them and the world that he's doing everything in his power to get them released.

Yet, the only assurance we get with regard to Ling’s and Lee’s release comes from the White House: President Obama is considering sending Gore as part of a “high level” delegation to appeal for clemency on behalf of the women held by the North Koreans.

Gore, as a public figure with international status and appeal, and more importantly, as one who has direct ties to the outfit these women worked for, should step up to the plate and speak out on their behalf. §

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

White Mexican

Early Sunday morning I sat facing the window of the Rogue Wave Café in Cayucos, Calif., observing my battered 1986 Toyota pickup parked in the street out front.

Café owner Wade Rumble sat next to me, also gazing out the window.

My dirty little brown truck, used mostly for hauling tools and making deliveries, was packed for the four-hour drive to Tustin, where my mother lives.

She will undergo a lumpectomy in a few days to remove a cancer, and will likely receive radiation treatment. I plan to stay with her until she recovers.

I’m not sure how long that will be. Pondering it made me sad. I hate leaving home. I don’t want mother to suffer more than she already has.

My father died last August after a yearlong battle with kidney cancer. It hasn’t even been a year since his death; mother and I still grieve his loss. Now, we turn our thoughts to a new challenge.

Sitting in the café, I thought of the possibility that it may be a while before I return.

I had packed for another extended stay in Orange County, which I fled 25 years ago to escape the noise, traffic and pollution.

I landed in Cayucos, where I have felt more at home than any place I’ve lived or visited since (except for Big Sur, just a quick drive up Highway 1).

I’ll miss being at home, even though I don’t have a steady job, and seldom have had any money while living here—just a handful of friends and an incredibly supportive community.

I turned to Wade. “My whole life is in that beastly truck,” I said.

He laughed. “That’s great,” he said. “What’s in it?”

“My keyboard and some gardening tools.”

“You’re the White Mexican,” he said.

To make ends meet, I’ve picked up gardening and landscape jobs and some farm labor. I washed windows for several years. I love the work but it’s seldom enough to pay the bills.

Wade’s right. I am the White Mexican, living day to day, hoping to earn enough to keep a roof over my head and put food on the table.

Frankly, I’d rather live this way than to be a slave in the corporate world.

I’ve always dreamed that the ideal lifestyle would be to split my time writing and publishing with gardening and tending plants, each day devoted to both physical and intellectual pursuits.

I had almost accomplished just that while editing and publishing The Rogue Voice, which hasn’t printed since January because of the loss of ad revenue and the economic crash of 2009.

Now, it seems, my dream is going up in smoke. Like many people my age, I’m going through a tremendous transition period on several levels: economic, career and family.

Still, I’m as poor as ever and, like many Mexicans who try to improve themselves here, living on the edge of a culture obsessed with money and trinkets.

I feel more comfortable, in fact, drinking tequila with Lorenzo and his family after a long day’s hard labor than I do driving L.A. freeways, or working in an office building to pursue the American Dream.

I’d rather be poor and socialize with people I can trust than be a corporate hack waiting to be mowed down by another ambitious social climber.

The downside of being poor in America, though, is that there’s not much support from the people who do have lots of money.

Mostly, it comes from others who have very little themselves. The poor help the poor in America.

My little Toyota with more than 240,000 miles hummed beautifully along the scenic Highway 101 out of San Luis Obispo County, and along the gritty L.A. freeways with their endless barren stream of automobiles.

I took a side trip through Malibu Canyon and worked my way back through upscale Brentwood before the final leg to Tustin.

As I passed the trendy restaurants and the beautiful people jogging along the roadside, I felt conspicuous in my work truck with its load of gardening tools and my keyboard next to me on the front seat.

Then, a stylish young man, neatly groomed and sportily dressed, passed me in his flashy black BMW, weaving in and out of traffic.

He appeared cool, trendy, at ease with his luxurious trappings.

“Think that’s cool?” I said to myself as I watched him cut through traffic. “Well, watch this!”

I putzed along at 45 miles per hour, just as I had been, nothing changed. “I’m the White Mexican.” I was happy. §