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Pot dispensary owner sentenced to a year and a day in prison

June 11, 2009 | 11:47 am

Medical marijuana

The owner of a Morro Bay pot dispensary who emerged as a key figure in the national debate over medical marijuana was sentenced to one year and one day in prison today by a federal judge in Los Angeles.

Charles Lynch, 47, dressed in a dark suit, sat with his hands clasped and stared straight ahead as the sentence was imposed by U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu. Lynch declined the opportunity to address the court moments earlier. His mother, seated in the courtroom gallery nearby, fought back tears as Wu said he saw no way around imposing a sentence of at least one year.

Lynch’s case made headlines nationwide and came to symbolize the tension between conflicting state and federal marijuana laws. Cultivating, using and selling doctor-recommended marijuana is allowed under some circumstances in California and about a dozen other states, but such activities are banned entirely under federal law.

Lynch was prosecuted for illegally distributing marijuana from his Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers facility, despite having the blessing of Morro Bay’s mayor, city attorney and other civic leaders.

During a two-week trial last summer, Lynch’s attorneys attempted to mount a defense based on the service they contend he provided to chronically ill patients who relied on marijuana to ease their suffering. They were barred from doing so, however, because the Supreme Court has ruled that medical necessity is not a legitimate defense for violating federal drug laws.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, portrayed Lynch as a common drug dealer who profited from his enterprise and hauled around a backpack stuffed with cash. They said he sold more than $2 million worth of the drug. They also said he repeatedly sold to people under 21 — considered minors under federal law — and that much of his clientele consisted of seemingly healthy young repeat customers.

--Scott Glover at L.A. Federal Court

Photo: Lynch earlier this year / L.A. Times file

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