Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Federalism and Medical Marijuana

Why is it that pharmacists can dispense amphetamines without getting arrested, but legal operators who dispense medical marijuana under California state law face federal prison time? Why do armed federal agents persist in raiding California?

I have updated my Medical Marijuana page with links to a video from Reason Magazine and an article by Jacob Sullum on the case of Owen Beck, seventeen-year-old high school football and soccer player who developed bone cancer and began agressive chemotherapy.

Doctors chose to amputate his leg to try to keep the cancer from spreading. Chemotherapy attacked Owen's cancer and his body, leaving him bald, gaunt, and vomiting the food he needed to recover. The amputation introduced Owen to a bizarre, new agony called phantom limb pain, and although doctors gave him powerful medication, nothing helped.

Reason.TV describes what happened next:

But might a new kind of pharmacy offer new hope? A medical marijuana dispensary had recently opened in the nearby city of Morro Bay. More than a decade earlier, California voters legalized medical marijuana and Morro Bay's mayor and Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the dispensary, and its owner Charlie Lynch.

Owen's parents knew the idea of giving medical marijuana to a 17-year-old strikes many people as scandalous. Local Sheriff Pat Hedges even asserts that allowing medical marijuana is "not in the best interest of a community that prides itself on providing a healthy, family environment."

But the Becks weren't concerned about what other people thought; they were focused on helping their son. So with a written doctor recommendation in hand, they purchased medical marijuana for their teenage son. The new medication eased Owen's pain and nausea like nothing else had, and the Becks grew fond of Charlie Lynch, who would sometimes refuse payment because, says Steve Beck, "He was just a compassionate kind of a guy."

But one day, Owen's life took another abrupt turn. Federal agents and local sheriff deputies raided Charlie Lynch's dispensary, and seized nearly everything inside, including Owen's medicine. "He had a prescription from a doctor at Stanford, and they took his stuff!" says Debbie Beck. Federal agents cuffed Lynch, and put him behind bars. Even though state and local laws allow for it, medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law. And because he had clients like Owen who were under age 21, Charlie Lynch faces heightened penalties. In California the average first-degree murder serves 20 years behind bars; Charlie Lynch could face a sentence as long as 100 years in prison.

On August 5, 2008 Charlie Lynch was found guilty on all five counts. Sentencing is scheduled for October 20, 2008

Sullum describes the "trial":

Called to testify as a character witness in Lynch's federal marijuana trial, Beck did not get far. When he mentioned his cancer, U.S. District Judge George Wu cut him off and sent him packing. Wu decreed there would be no talk of the symptoms marijuana relieves, no references to California's recognition of marijuana as a medicine, no mention even of the phrase medical marijuana in front of the jury.

In short, there would be no explanation of how Lynch came to operate what prosecutors called a "marijuana store" in downtown Morro Bay for a year, openly serving more than 2,000 customers. Under federal law, which forbids marijuana use for any purpose, all that was irrelevant. So it's hardly surprising that Lynch was convicted last week of five marijuana-related offenses that carry penalties of five to 85 years in prison.

For's coverage of the trial (including an on-camera interview with the jury foreperson), go here, here, and here.

For more information, visit Friends of Charles C. Lynch.

For information on how to contact your elected officials, please go here or here

When Samuel Adams formed the "Committees of Correspondence," one of the stated purposes of that revolutionary political movement was

the preparation of a statement of the rights of the colonists,
• as men,
as Christians, and
• as subjects.*

Today we might speak of our rights
• as human beings,
• as Christians, and
• as Americans; as Constitutionalists.

Sheriff Pat Hedges and Judge George Wu are bad Americans, bad Christians, and bad human beings. If that isn't obvious already, learn more here:

America's Worst Sheriffs, Part I

*James K. Hosmer, Samuel Adams, NY: Chelsea House, 1980 [1898], p. 180

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