Charles C. Lynch outside the trailer where he lives behind his mother’s house in New Mexico.
By ERIK ECKHOLM
April 8, 2015
BLOOMFIELD, N.M. — Charles C. Lynch seemed to be doing everything right when he opened a medical marijuana dispensary in the tidy coastal town of Morro Bay, Calif.
The mayor, the city attorney and leaders of the local Chamber of Commerce all came for the ribbon-cutting in 2006. The conditions for his business license, including a ban on customers younger than 18 and compliance with California’s medical marijuana laws, were posted on the wall.
But two years later, Mr. Lynch was convicted of multiple felonies under federal law for selling marijuana. He is one of hundreds of defendants and prisoners caught in the stark conflict between federal law — which puts marijuana in the same class as heroin, with no exception for medical sales — and many states’ decisions to allow medical uses.
“I feel so left out of society,” Mr. Lynch, 52, who is out on bond and appealing his conviction, said from a battered trailer behind his mother’s house here in northwestern New Mexico. He is waiting to see if he must go to prison.
Now, though, a legal wild card has been injected into his case and those of several other defendants in California and Washington State.
In December, in a little-publicized amendment to the 2015 appropriations bill that one legal scholar called a “buried land mine,” Congress barred the Justice Department from spending any money to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
In the most advanced test of the law yet, Mr. Lynch’s lawyers have asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to “direct the D.O.J. to cease spending funds on the case.” In a filing last month, they argued that by continuing to work on his prosecution, federal prosecutors “would be committing criminal acts.”
But the Justice Department asserts that the amendment does not undercut its power to enforce federal drug law. It says that the amendment only bars federal agencies from interfering with state efforts to carry out medical marijuana laws, and that it does not preclude criminal prosecutions for violations of the Controlled Substances Act.
With the new challenge raised …Read More