By Jun Y. Kwon and Stanley Jutkowitz
In a split decision last Thursday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Morro Bay marijuana dispensary owner Charles Lynch and remanded the case to the district court for a factual determination as to whether Lynch’s activities were in strict compliance with California law. [Link to case here.]
The panel rejected all but one of Lynch’s arguments he proffered after his conviction, finding merit in the potential application of a congressional appropriations rider to his case. [See Section 538 of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015.Congress extended the rider in its most recent legislation, which became law on March 23, 2018.]
The rider, substantively identical to the Rohrabacher-Farr (or Rohrabacher-Blumenauer) amendments, bars the Department of Justice from prosecuting individuals in strict compliance with state medical marijuana laws, and operates to annul a properly obtained conviction. Judge John M. Rogers of the Sixth Circuit, sitting by designation, wrote for the majority: “The rider covers only persons in total compliance with state law, and it is contestable whether this so describes Lynch and his activities.” If Lynch is found to have been non-compliant with California law, he would not be covered by the rider and, given his role leading the dispensary, an organization involving more than five participants, Lynch would be subject to a five-year mandatory minimum prison term.
Even if Lynch is found to have been strictly compliant, Lynch is not home free. The court will then need to address whether the rider provision operates to annul a conviction otherwise properly obtained before its passage (Lynch was convicted in 2008. The rider passed in 2015.).