Collective Farming and the Lynch Case

Things looked grim for Charles Lynch last week when the Department of Justice instructed the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles to keep seeking a five-year mandatory minimum sentence in his case. Lynch had been convicted in federal court last summer of marijuana-law violations –five counts—stemming from his operation of a Morro Bay dispensary.  In March U.S. District Judge George Wu, noting Attorney General Eric Holder’s stated intention to not prosecute dispensaries that comply with state law, put off sentencing Lynch until DOJ weighed in. That happened April 17 when Deputy AG H. Marshall Jarrett advised the prosecution not to cut Lynch any slack.

Evidently Wu–a Bush-the-Younger-appointee handling his first case as a federal judge–wanted to do the right thing whether or not DOJ did.  Yesterday he indicated that Lynch, not being a “kingpin,” qualified for the exception to the mandatory minimums. Wu said he was contemplating a year-and-a-day sentence and asked the defense to brief him on how Lynch might serve his time outside a prison. Wu postponed the sentencing once more, until June 11.

“It looks good for Charlie, but it’s not a done deal yet,” said patients’ advocate Bill Britt, our man in the courtroom. Bill said the testimony of character witnesses for Lynch was especially convincing  – “not that the judge needed convincing.”  The mayor of Morro Bay, Janice Peters, spoke admiringly of Lynch,  said he had always done what city officials asked of him, and evinced no criminal intent.  City Attorney Rob Schultz got a laugh when he testified that the only complaint he had received about Lynch “had to do with the quality of the medical marijuana” available at his dispensary.

Attorney Joe Elford of Americans for Safe Access testified that Lynch’s dispensary was operating as a de facto collective and that he would not have been indicted had the current DOJ policy prevailed in 2007. (The prosecution contends that Lynch was not a “primary caregiver” under California law and that he was a profiteer who grossed $2.1 million over 11 months in 2006-07.)

The most compelling witness of all, according to Britt, was Owen Beck, who at age 17 had obtained cannabis from Lynch’s dispensary, resulting in the sold-to-a-minor count against Lynch.  Crucial facts were inadmissible during Lynch’s trial in Wu’s courtroom:  Owen had bone cancer and was using marijuana with his parents’ permission and on the advice of his Stanford University Hospital oncologis) to reduce nausea and sustain appetite during chemotherapy. Lynch”s sale of marijuana to Owen Beck was repeatedly misrepresented to the media by the US Attorney as an example a state-law violation.

Steven Beck, Owen’s father, testified that the marijuana provided by Lynch (free or at a deep discount) enabled his son to eat and sleep, and restored his spirits. “I never felt as though Charlie was there for the money,” Beck said.

Bill Britt was pleased to report that Owen, an amputee, “has grown into a strong, good-looking young man.”  Bill said Judge Wu began his commentary on the case yesterday by recounting all the reasons he ought to impose the mandatory minimums. Anxiety built in a courtroom filled with friends of Charlie Lynch. One well-wisher expressed premature outrage and was ejected by a bailiff shortly before Wu’s line of thinking swerved towards leniency.

Lynch was represented by federal public defender Reuven Cohen. He intends to appeal his conviction.  Despite his satisfactory relations with Morro Bay officials –and the Chamber of Commerce –  the feds  indicted him at the urging of San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Patrick Hedges.

Collective Farming

Bill Britt was peripherally involved in another case that resulted in a strong expression of support for medical marijuana providers.  On April 3 a Mendocino County jury hung 7-5 in favor of Luke Strauss and Joe Maligno, who had been growing hundreds of pounds for a West Hollywood storefront dispensary.  As reported by Pebbles Trippet in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, “Attorneys J. David Nick and Edie Lerman proved to the jury that Strauss and Maligno were in compliance with state law on collectives. The evidence… revealed that approximately $1.4 million passed through the West Hollywood collective’s bank accounts in order to cover overhead expenses and the cost of cultivating the cannabis. The prosecution, on the other hand, had no evidence that they were operating illegally. They simply relied on their accusation that it was just ‘too much marijuana.'”

Edie Lerman commented, “The law is clear. It allows for medical marijuana patients to associate and collectively cultivate, to get paid for their labor and services and reimbursed for expenses.”  The jury understood what the Mendocino County sheriff and district attorney did not: California law does not limit the number of members who can associate in a medical-marijuana collective or cooperative cultivation project, nor does it limit how much weight a grower can provide to physician-approved patients.

Bill Britt was going to testify that medical marijuana consumers in urban areas –especially in Southern California, given the bias of local law enforcement— rely on growers from rural areas, but Judge Ron Brown granted a prosecution motion to exclude Britt on grounds  that his testimony would be redundant.  It didn’t matter; the jurors understood the common-sense reality.

Four of the five jurors who voted for conviction have  reportedly advised DA Meredith Lintott not to re-file the case against Strauss and Maligno.

Here’s Trippet’s hopeful summary of the legal situation from the real paper of record (the AVA):

The Strauss-Maligno case relied on the new marijuana laws enacted under the Medical Marijuana Program Act (Senate Bill 420) in 2003. In August 2008 the California Attorney General published his Medical Marijuana Guidelines. They are currently considered the best authority for the legal elements of the “closed circuit membership” model, that explains how to lawfully cultivate collectively or cooperatively under H&S 11362.775 (SB420). The most comprehensive legal analysis of the new medical marijuana laws under SB420 is the 3d District Court of Appeals precedent, People v Urziceanu (2005), that interprets the meaning of “collective cooperative cultivation projects” as adding extra protections for sales and distribution, if evidence shows a situation of collective good rather than individual profit. In Urziceanu, the court held that:

“This new law represents a dramatic change in the prohibitions on the use, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana for persons who are qualified patients or primary caregivers… It’s specific itemization of the marijuana sales law indicates it contemplates the formation and operation of medicinal marijuana cooperatives that would receive reimbursement for marijuana and the services provided in conjunction with the provision of that marijuana.”

Defense attorney Edie Lerman remarked about the case after the verdict, “This shows that juries will be fair if they hear all the evidence and understand the law, regardless of the quantity involved. The Strauss-Maligno case proves that no credible medical marijuana case should be dealt away with a plea agreement, unless perhaps it is for deferred judgment, where the record is erased in six months. We’re getting calls from other lawyers saying they are now emboldened to take their cases to trial.”

FRED GARDNER edits O’Shaughnessy’s, the Journal of Cannabis in Clinical Practice. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

More articles by:

Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South