Monday, July 28, 2008
A highly anticipated trial involving conflicting marijuana laws got underway Friday in Los Angeles federal court with a prosecutor painting the owner of a Morro Bay medicinal marijuana store as a brazen drug trafficker who sold dope to teenagers and toted around a backpack stuffed with cash.
Defense attorneys struggled to provide context for their client's alleged crimes after being barred by the judge from mentioning the phrase "medical marijuana."
At the center of the case is Charlie Lynch, a 46-year-old businessman from San Luis Obispo County, who opened a facility called Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers in the spring of 2006.
Prosecutors contend that Lynch violated federal law by selling $2.1 million worth of marijuana in less than a year, some of it to people "not yet old enough to legally drink."
Lynch's defense attorneys would like to present evidence that their client was dispensing doctor-prescribed medical marijuana to sick people in accordance with state law and with the blessing of elected officials in Morro Bay. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has concluded that federal drug laws trump those of the state and that the reasons why the drug is distributed are irrelevant.
But one of Lynch's lawyers hinted during opening statements that Lynch had sought -- and presumably received -- approval from an official with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration before he set up shop. If they are able to convince U.S. District Judge George Wu that there is a sufficient basis for mounting such a quasi-entrapment defense, they may be allowed to present evidence that Lynch believed he was operating within the law, which legal experts said would likely make him more sympathetic to jurors.
"It could have an enormous effect," said Rebecca Lonergan, a USC law professor and former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles. "Any time you have a hot political or public policy issue like this, there is the risk that members of the jury will decide based on their politics, not the evidence in the case." [Mark Godsey]