by Norm Kent, NORML Board of Directors
The morning after the Academy Awards a band of protestors gathered in Los Angeles on the corner of Main Street and Temple St outside the federal courthouse. They were not there for the Oscars. But one day someone will make a movie about the person they were there for. It may be called ‘Inherit the Wind: the Sequel.’
The protestors were marijuana patients and medical use advocates gathering in behalf of one Charles C. Lynch (photo below of Lynch’s medical cannabis dispensary opening), who was convicted in a United States court last summer of operating a medical marijuana dispensary in violation of federal laws. The organizers have no red carpet. They just wanted to draw public attention to Lynch’s case hoping that the 46-year old man does not spend decades in prison for giving medicine to sick people.
California is one of thirteen states in which medical marijuana is legal, but federal law prohibits its use under any circumstances. That means that though Mr. Lynch obeyed local and state laws, he nevertheless became a federal prisoner. That means he is a victim of American injustice at its worst.
Mr. Lynch was convicted at trial, denied under the Federal Rules of Evidence from presenting any testimony whatsoever about medical marijuana, his own city business license, or the California state law he dutifully and righteously obeyed. A jury thus only heard that some man was selling marijuana to line his pockets, and they convicted him, as a San Francisco jury once convicted Ed Rosenthal.
We had another trial like that in America. It was called the Scopes trial, and as I recall, a schoolteacher was prosecuted for teaching science in his class and then denied the right to present testimony regarding evolution at his trial.
On February 4, a White House Spokesman named Nick Shapiro said that President Obama did not want to waste federal law enforcement resources circumventing state medical marijuana laws. Mr. Shapiro opined that he expected the President’s new appointees to consider this when setting policy for their agencies. How about having one of them show up at the sentencing for Mr. Lynch? How about directing the US Attorney to stand down? I am available if they want to send me.
Somewhere in Hollywood, a producer, watching news footage of this honorable protest, will sit in his studio, and remark, ‘This will make a good film.’ Years down the road, a younger version of Sean Penn will accept an Oscar for having portrayed a role about a middle aged man who started a legitimate business dispensing marijuana to sick people. It will show him struggling to open the collective, reaching out to his consumers, helping out his neighbors, and raising his family. Then the scene will switch to federal SWAT agents smashing down his door, arresting him and locking him up. A US Attorney will then put him in jail for violating federal laws. Freed years later, his community will see him as a hero and martyr, not a villain or thief.
While gay people were being beaten mindlessly in alleys for decades, someone may have said the same of Harvey Milk’s inspirational calling in San Francisco for gay rights. But he was not alive for the motion picture. He was gunned down. For Mr. Lynch and his family, there is no time for a movie tomorrow. This is real life. He is being gunned down today.
Unless our President does something, he is going to jail for years. And no academy award will ever remedy that terrible injustice.
Norm Kent is a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale and a member of the NORML Board of Directors, who publishes The Broward Law Blog
Here are some related links, courtesy of Americans for Safe Access:
-White House Statement on Medical Cannabis: safeaccessnow.org/article.php?id=5665
-Drew Carey/Reason TV documentary short on Lynch: reason.tv/video/show/413.html
-Recent Los Angeles Times story on the trial: latimes.com/news/local/la-me-weed26-2008jul26,0,6418930.story
-Friends of Charles C. Lynch website: friendsofccl.com