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Federal judge postpones medical marijuana sentencing

March 23, 2009 | 12:27 pm

A federal judge in Los Angeles this morning postponed the sentencing of a man who emerged as a key figure in the national debate over medical marijuana, saying he wanted additional information about a reported change in the Justice Department’s policy regarding such prosecutions.

U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu asked prosecutors for a written response from the Justice Department about its position on medical marijuana prosecutions in light of recent comments from Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.

Holder said last week that the Justice Department under President Obama had no plans to prosecute dispensary owners who operated within their state's law.

Wu said he did not believe that any change in policy would affect the conviction of Charles Lynch, 47. But the judge said he wanted to consider any new information about the policy before imposing sentence.

Lynch’s trial this summer  showcased the issue of conflicting state and federal marijuana laws.

Cultivating, using, and selling doctor-recommended medical marijuana is allowed under some circumstances in California and a dozen other states, but federal law bans the drug altogether.

Lynch, of Morro Bay, argued at trial that he had the blessing of the mayor and other city officials when he opened his Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers in  spring  2006. Lynch’s defense attorneys wanted to present evidence that Lynch was providing a service to seriously ill patients for whom doctors had recommended marijuana. But they were barred from doing so because the U.S. Supreme Court has concluded that the reason someone distributes marijuana in violation of federal law is irrelevant.

Prosecutors portrayed Lynch as a cynical entrepreneur who took advantage of the state’s medical marijuana law to sell about $2 million worth of pot  over a roughly one year period beginning in 2006, until his store was raided. They accused him of carrying around a backpack stuffed with cash, like a common drug dealer.

Following the verdict in August, the jury forewoman said jurors believed Lynch “meant well” but concluded that he was breaking federal law.

-- Scott Glover