A Major Deal Over a Minor Issue

medical-marijuanaEarlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would no longer “target” medical cannabis providers who operated within state law. It remains unclear how the federal government will decide who provides marijuana within state law and who does not. One thing is clear; the feds do not fully understand state law, at least when it comes to minors in California.

The Golden State is the first of 13 states to decriminalize cannabis for medical use. The Compassion Act of 1996 has caused a controversy over the difference between state and federal law. The Bush Administration actively targeted medical marijuana patient and providers regardless of their compliance with local and state laws.

In response to Holder’s statements, Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Garrison Courtney told the New York Times that the DEA would continue to go after medical cannabis providers who broke state law by selling to minors. Courtney’s comment highlights another federal and state disparity. In drug cases, the federal government considers anyone under the age of 21 a minor.

There is no California state law that limits the age of a medical cannabis patient. A Californian physician can recommend marijuana to a qualified patient of any age. In California and around the country (except in drug cases), a person is no longer considered a minor at the age of 18; they are considered young adults who can vote, get marijuana, do porn, and go to war.

Charles C. Lynch, a former medical cannabis patient and provider, was the first and only marijuana dispenser to be charged with sales to minors in Federal Court. He was convicted on five cannabis-only charges, two having to do with sales to young adults between the ages of 18 and 21.

Lynch had a “Medical Marijuana Dispensary” business license, which required any qualified cannabis patient under the age of 18 had to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Lynch says that he and his employees followed this rules stringently.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the United State Attorney’s office in Los Angeles, told the New York Times that Lynch had violated state laws by selling marijuana for use by minors. Apparently, Mrozek, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the DEA do not fully understand California State law.

DEA agents during raid and arrest.

DEA agents during raid and arrest.

And why would they? Under the Bush Administration, they have done everything they can to circumvent the will of the people in California. In federal court, defendants like Lynch cannot use state law as a defense, and judges instruct jurors they cannot take state law into consideration when coming to a verdict.

Even with a change in federal policy, it has yet to be seen if medical cannabis providers can use state law in federal court because Holder’s statements represent policy changes, not changes in law or legal precedent in federal court.

The new American medical cannabis policy remains unclear not only to patients and providers but to  Judge George H. Wu, in the Lynch case, who asked Federal Prosecutor David Kowal to get the Department of Justice to provide a written statement before the Lynch sentencing proceeds.

The DEA seems to be confused by the new policy as well because they raided a medical cannabis dispensary in San Francisco a week after the U.S. Attorney there vaguely clarified the federal government’s stance on medical marijuana in states that have approved its use.

The DEA’s San Francisco raid did not involve the local police department nor did the DEA even notify them. The San Francisco Gate reported that the licensed medical cannabis facility allegedly violated state tax laws. Due process in these situation dictates an audit by the State Board of Equalization, not paramilitary-style raids with a dozen fully armed federal drug agents.

It remains unclear how the new American medical marijuana policy will unfold, especially for defendants like Lynch who have been convicted, or those in prison or those awaiting federal prosecution. However, it remains abundantly clear the federal government continues to make a major deal over a minor issue.

Cheryl Aichele

Cheryl Aichele is a Senior at UCLA studying English Literature and is a medical marijuana patient and activist who suffers chronic pain from a work-related injury. She is based in Los Angeles. She has written articles in “Treating Yourself” magazine, “Green Kind” magazine, Salem News, Now Public and other publications.

LA Progressive


  1. dave says

    Have the feds ever heard of something called 'jurisdiction'?

    I suppose FBI agents will be pulling me over to give me a traffic citation the next time I speed now that federal agencies are taking over enforcement of state law, right?

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