This month will mark the sixth anniversary of a day Charlie Lynch wishes was long behind him.
But federal prosecutors have stood resolute in their case against the former owner and managing caregiver of San Luis Obispo County’s only medical marijuana dispensary, even after the federal government has taken a comparatively hands-off approach to providers of the medicine who follow state guidelines.
In 2007, after a year of quiet operation and the blessing of Morro Bay city officials, Lynch’s Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers was raided in a joint SLO Sheriff’s Department and federal Drug Enforcement Agency operation at the behest of then-Sheriff Pat Hedges. Lynch was arrested at gunpoint in his Arroyo Grande home and later charged with conspiracy to traffic marijuana, as well as sell marijuana to minors in conflict with federal law.
He was subsequently convicted in federal court before a judge who wasn’t allowed to consider California law in his ruling. Since then, Lynch has remained in limbo, pursuing an appeal of his sentence of one year and one day in prison by the sympathetic judge while prosecutors—these days far busier with hardcore cases—continue to kick the can down the road, steadfast in their pursuit of a minimum five-year sentence.
The last time New Times sat down with Lynch was following an April 26, 2011, Morro Bay City Council meeting when the then-council decided to take off the table for the time being a discussion allowing another dispensary within the city. Lynch, at the time, was already two years deep into his appeal, and had just had a federal public defender appointed for him. He was reporting every week by phone—and once a month in person—to federal officials in Santa Barbara.
He remained out on $400,000 bail, which his family helped him post by putting up property and making other sacrifices a devoted family would for one of its members. Despite the 2011 debut of the acclaimed documentary Lynching Charlie Lynch, five years of legal maneuvering had taken its toll. He filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and lost his home of 10 years to foreclosure that January.
With a felony conviction on his record and appeal proceedings hanging over his head, finding employment was more than a struggle. After three years of unemployment, he found work at a software company in San Luis Obispo.
In other words, Lynch hadn’t the time nor the resources to follow what Morro Bay was considering. The city has yet to bring the issue back for discussion.
Since then, Lynch’s contract with the software company has run its course, and he’s pulled stakes and moved to Orcutt, where he’s spent the last year or so refining his skills with Apple products for a possible job.
“I’ve got a whole new skill set,” Lynch told New Times. “I’m trying to reinvent myself.”
Understandably, Lynch is noticeably more agitated when he discusses his legal situation than he was two years ago. The normally soft-spoken and gentle slight Southern drawl New Times reporters have come to know from both work-related conversations and personal catching-up during run-ins around town turns slightly darker at times. He seems to find many of the same old questions are harder to answer these days.
Speaking on the phone to New Times on a recent summer evening, he said he feels the government and—so far—the judicial system have failed him, leaving him to “sit and rot” while the rest of the world moves on, including medical marijuana providers who may not be as above-the-board as he was when he operated his “model business”—a description used by former mayor Janice Peters, not Lynch.
Though friends and family members declined to go into too much detail, Lynch’s ordeal appears to have taken a very real personal toll on him, they told New Times, and they worry of his struggle with depression and migraines—all without the medication he was once allowed under state law. Since his conviction, he’s prohibited from medicating with anything stronger than aspirin. That certainly leaves out the organic, state-recognized medicine he was accused—and convicted—by the feds of pushing across state lines.
“I haven’t been feeling too good lately,” is all he would say, without elaborating.
Last year, eTrade informed him the company was closing his IRA and brokerage accounts—some of the last of his funds, he said. They gave no reason other than to state they reserved the right to close accounts for any reason. His eTrade account remains frozen pending his appeal. Subsequent attempts to open similar accounts with different companies were met with denial due to a report from a company called Compliance Data Corporation, which Lynch discovered was based on a press release issued regarding his arrest.
“I feel like I’m getting squeezed off the grid,” Lynch said. “That was kind of the last straw. I mean, I’ve taken a lot of B.S. with all I’ve gone through, but that’s just low.”
And the pointlessness inherent in Lynch’s latest blow: Medical marijuana industry stocks are now bought and sold freely on the Internet.
If there’s good recent news regarding Lynch’s case, he said, it’s that he’s no longer required to make the Santa Barbara trek each month; now it’s Ventura every three months. But he still has to report in via telephone every Monday.
And because so much time has passed since his conviction, his public defender filed a motion that was successful in getting his bail reduced, and money his brother contributed and property his father put up as collateral for that bail were returned, he said. Other family members still have property invested in Lynch’s freedom.
And Lynch’s friends still extend throughout the nation on the Internet and social media. A website, friendsofccl.com, and the Lynching Charlie Lynch Facebook page keep his story alive.
“The support’s still there, yeah. The movie’s kind of found its place on Netflix. People will still send me e-mails. But the freedom fighting’s a tough business—there’s not a lot of money to be made in it,” he chuckled, one of the few signs of his old sense of somewhat self-deprecating humor during the interview.
Asked if he had any regrets, he replied, “Somebody’s got to take on the fight and bring it to the forefront.”
News Editor Matt Fountain can be reached at email@example.com.
• April 2006 Lynch opens Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, joins Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce.
• March 2007 Compassionate Caregivers raided in joint SLO Sheriff’s/DEA investigation at the request of former SLO County Sheriff Pat Hedges.
• April 7, 2007 Compassionate Caregivers reopens with blessing of city.
• April 14, 2007 DEA officials telephone landlord of Compassionate Caregivers, threaten federal asset forfeiture if it doesn’t close shop.
• May 16, 2007 Compassionate Caregivers closes for good.
• July 17, 2007 Charlie Lynch arrested at his Arroyo Grande home for conspiracy to commit federal marijuana distribution, pleads not guilty.
• July 28, 2008 Lynch's federal trial begins in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
• August 5, 2008 Lynch found guilty.
• January 2009 Denied request for new trial.
• March 2009 Federal government policy changes in favor of state-compliant MMJ providers; Lynch's story appears on ABC's 20/20, followed by a profile by Al Roker, and an appearance on Larry King Live.
• June 11, 2009 Lynch sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison.
• June 2009 Lynch attorneys file notice of appeal, Lynch remains on bail pending appeal, case moves to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
• July 2009 Federal government also appeals sentence, demands five-year minimum.
• August 2009 Judge rejects appeals because he hasn't issued a written ruling.
• April 2010 Judge issues ruling.
• May 2010 Appeals re-filed.
• April 2011 Lynch appointed federal public defenders; Lynching Charlie Lynch debuts to wide acclaim.
• July 2012 Americans for Safe Access file in support of Lynch appeal.
• August 2012 Federal prosecutors request extension to respond to appeal.
• December 2012 Prosecutors file another extension.
• March 2013 Prosecutors file for third extension.
• May 2013 The government files for fourth extension; mistakenly re-files March request. The new brief is due Aug. 5.