A nearly seventeen-year battle over California’s medical marijuana dispensary is going up in smoke

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 08: For almost 17 years, the federal government has been after Charles Lynch for running a medical marijuana dispensary. Prosecutors refused to drop their criminal case against him even as marijuana became fully legal in California and 23 other states. They refused to let it go when Congress prohibited the Justice Department from using its money to criminally prosecute medical marijuana activities that complied with state law. Charles Lynch, left, attorney Reuven L Cohen and Bodine Jones outside Federal Court House, Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

A nearly seventeen-year battle over California’s medical marijuana dispensary is going up in smoke

Homepage News, California Politics

Brittny Mejia

February 8, 2024

Charles Lynch awaited another day in federal court Thursday in a nearly 17-year battle over his former medical marijuana dispensary, surrounded by supporters including his so-called Green Team.

Lynch wore an Apple Watch with a changing background of his own creation, depicting marijuana (including one of the Statue of Liberty smoking a joint). His former secretary at the pharmacy wore a marijuana green blazer. A conscious choice? “You’re right,” she said.

They hoped for an end to that


case that had dragged on since Lynch’s arrest on federal charges in 2007. All around


they understood.

U.S. District Judge George H. Wu signed a diversion agreement that would essentially allow Lynch’s criminal record to be expunged within 72 days.

Under the agreement with prosecutors, Lynch’s previous convictions for violating federal drug laws would be dismissed in April. He would have no criminal record.

Why the Justice Department wouldn’t let go of Charles Lynch’s 16-year-old marijuana case

When Lynch was asked outside the courthouse how he felt, he said “indescribable.”

“It’s been so long since I’ve lost a lot of feeling,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I will wait another 72 days and be a good, law-abiding citizen like I have been for the past seventeen years to fully bring the case to a close.”

After his arrest, Lynch lost his California home for bankruptcy and eventually moved in


single-wide trailer on his

mom’s mother

property in New Mexico. No one would hire him, he said, with “a federal case hanging over my head.”

When asked what was next for him, Lynch said he wasn’t sure.

“There’s talk that I’m going to do new things here in California, but I’m not sure what I want to do yet,” he said. “In a way, I’m a little bitter that California left me behind for so long. But I’m going to knock that chip off my shoulder and move on.”

Reuven Cohen, Lynch’s original federal public defender, wiped away tears of his own Thursday.

‘I think a lot of people have forgotten about Charlie Lynch. He took a courageous stand seventeen years ago on behalf of all the people on the Central Coast he truly wanted to help.”

In April 2006, Lynch opened a medical marijuana dispensary in the resort town of Morro Bay. At the time, there were no such dispensaries in San Luis Obispo County.

The mayor, city attorney and members of the Chamber of Commerce attended the ribbon cutting for the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers pharmacy. One photo showed the mayor shaking Lynch’s hand as he smiled.

Although the cultivation, use and sale of doctor-recommended medical marijuana was allowed in California under certain circumstances, federal law, which is independent of state regulation, bans the drug entirely.

Nearly a year after Lynch opened the pharmacy, the Drug Enforcement Administration executed a search warrant at the business and his home. Months later, in July 2007, authorities arrested him.

The following year, a jury convicted Lynch on five counts of violating federal drug laws. In June 2009, Wu sentenced Lynch to one year and one day in prison.

After the conviction, Lynch appealed his conviction to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The government filed a cross-appeal and argued for the mandatory minimum of five years.

In a September 2018 decision, the 9th Circuit affirmed Lynch’s conviction. In response to the government’s cross-appeal, it was determined that Lynch should be sentenced to the mandatory minimum of five years.

The panel also noted that there was a dispute over whether Lynch’s activities were legal under state law. The case was sent back to the district court for that decision to be returned to Wu.

Before the judge could make a ruling


During a hearing on January 22, the government offered Lynch a plea deal.

He agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Prosecutors would recommend a prison sentence, meaning Lynch would not spend a day in jail.

On Thursday, the day the plea deal is finalized

would be set

go first


Wu, Lynch waited with him outside the federal courthouse

mom mom

Bodine Jones and Gina Armstrong, the former secretary of his pharmacy in Morro Bay.

Also present that day were several members of Lynch’s “green team,” the federal public defenders who had represented him

through during

the lengthy legal process.

Jones hadn’t slept much, she said, as she thought about the day ahead and their future.

“It changed our lives over the course of 17 years,” Jones said. She was 67 when it all started. Now she is 84.

“I’m glad I’m still standing after all these years,” she says

said added

. ‘Hopefully this is the end and we can move on with our lives.

Then came another wrinkle.

According to Cohen, Justice Department guidelines would not allow a plea to that effect because marijuana possession is now a forgivable crime. Instead, the government worked with Lynch to offer a diversion deal.

By signing the agreement, Lynch conditionally admitted to possession with intent to distribute marijuana. He agreed not to break any laws during the diversion period and to pay a $2,500 fine. The government would then reject everything.

Cohen said he gave “all credit” to Mack Jenkins, head of the




ivision, Joseph T. McNally, de




assistant US


and Martin Estrada, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.

“Mr. Jenkins showed great class and exercised the kind of judgment that the U.S


“Ttorney’s office is something to be really proud of,” Cohen said.

Although prosecutors offered a 60-day deadline

period of

distraction, Lynch countered with 72

to dawn


He wanted his record cleared


20th of April





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