Legal Marijuana Dispensaries Prosecuted As Courts Debate New Provision

By Brent McCluskey 04/16/15

Marijuana dispensary owners are increasingly finding themselves caught between state and federal law.

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Charles C. Lynch did his best to abide by the law when he opened his medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay, Calif. But because of the shifting laws surrounding the sale of marijuana he has found himself behind bars and facing criminal prosecution.

Lynch, a 52-year-old former software engineer, opened his dispensary in 2006 after discovering that marijuana eased his severe migraines. He followed California state law and even had the support of the mayor, city attorney, and local Chamber of Commerce. But just two short years later the federal government convicted Lynch of multiple felonies under federal law for the sale of marijuana.

Lynch is just one of many medical marijuana dispensary owners who have found themselves caught between state and federal law.

But a recent amendment to the 2015 appropriations bill provides some hope for these individuals. The amendment precludes the Justice Department from using funds to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Lynch’s lawyers are presenting the argument that the Department of Justice must stop spending money on the case, as doing so “would be committing criminal acts.” However, the Department of Justice says the amendment doesn’t take away their power to prosecute. Now, federal judges must decide who is right.

“If any court, especially the Ninth Circuit, declares that the provision precludes federal prosecution of state-compliant individuals, this will be huge,” said Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and editor of the Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog.

While Lynch was convicted and sentenced to one year and one day, his lawyers have appealed the decision. Judge George H. Wu, who handed down the sentence, acknowledged that Lynch tried to follow the law but that he was just one of the individuals who have been “caught in the middle of the shifting positions of government authorities.”

Lynch’s funds were seized and he spent nearly a year under house arrest. Unable to find another job, he lost his house and now resides with his family.

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Brent McCluskey is a Social Media Editor at International Business Times as well as a Jedi with Sith tendencies.  He is also a reader of books, slayer of dragons, and level 80 mage.

“Yeah, I have a broad skill set. If I had to pick between being a Divergent or a wizard, I'd pick a wizard.”  His wizardness can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.