Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 19
Waiting for justiceSix years after his arrest, Charlie Lynch remains in legal and personal purgatory
BY MATT FOUNTAIN
This month will mark the sixth anniversary of a day that Orcutt resident 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/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 was not allowed to consider California law in his ruling. Since then, Lynch has remained in limbo, pursuing an appeal by the sympathetic judge of his sentence of one year and one day in prison while prosecutors—these days far busier with hardcore cases—continue to kick the can down the road, steadfast in their pursuit for a minimum five-year sentence.
The last time the Sun 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 of allowing another dispensary within the city. Lynch, at the time, was already two years deep into his appeal, and had just been appointed a federal public defender. 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 that a devoted family would for one of its members. Despite the recent 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 or 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 has 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 the Sun. “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 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 the Sun 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 Morro Bay Mayor Janice Peters, not Lynch.
Though they declined to go into too much detail, friends and family members told the Sun Lynch’s ordeal appears to have taken a very real personal toll on him, and they worry of his struggle with depression and migraines headaches—all without the medication he was once allowed under state law. Since his conviction, he is prohibited from medicating with anything stronger than aspirin, much less 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,” he would say without elaborating.
To add insult to injury, he said his IRA and brokerage accounts were closed last year—some of the last of his funds. He said he was given no specific reason for the closure and that his account remains frozen pending his appeal. Subsequent attempts to open similar accounts with various companies were met with denial; Lynch blamed a report he discovered was based upon 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 is that medical marijuana industry stocks are now bought and sold freely on the Internet.
If there is good recent news regarding Lynch’s case, he said, it’s that he’s no longer required to make the Santa Barbara trek monthly; now it’s Ventura every three months. 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 was returned, he said. Other family members still have property invested in Lynch’s freedom.
And the number of Lynch’s friends across the nation continues to grow 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 said with a chuckle—one of the few signs of his old sense of 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.”
Matt Fountain is news editor of New Times, the Sun’s sister paper to the north. He can be reached at email@example.com.