Here’s the introduction to the piece
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Thursday breathed new life into the defense of former Morro Bay marijuana dispensary owner Charles Lynch, sending his case back to a trial court to determine if his business was operating legally under California law before he was prosecuted and convicted on drug charges.
That compliance finding will be key. If a judge decides Lynch’s Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers was operating legally under state laws, his prosecution could be hampered by a federal appropriations rider that bars federal prosecutors from spending tax money pursuing state-legal medical marijuana operations.
“If Lynch was not compliant with state law, he is not covered by the rider and is subject to the penalties of his conviction,” wrote Judge John Rogers of the Sixth Circuit, who was sitting by designation. “Should the district court resolve the state-law-compliance issue in Lynch’s favor, the court may then rule in the first instance on the legal issues that such a determination would raise.”
The 2-1 ruling was by no means a complete victory for Lynch. Rogers and Ninth Circuit Judge Jay Bybee affirmed Lynch’s conviction and rejected his arguments that U.S. District Judge George Wu of the Central District of California improperly barred potentially exculpatory evidence from his trial. The panel also found that Lynch should be sentenced to a five-year mandatory minimum prison term if his conviction stands on remand. Wu had sentenced Lynch to one year.
In dissent, Judge Paul Watford said Wu went too far in warning jurors not to engage in jury nullification. Watford said the case should have been remanded to the district court for a new trial.
“At least in cases like this one, where nullification was an obvious possibility given the popularity of medical marijuana in California, I don’t see how the government could ever prove that a court’s unduly coercive anti-nullification instruction had no effect on the outcome,” Watford wrote.