John Stossel / March 25, 2009

Butt Out, Feds

Authorities raided Charlie Lynch’s California home.

“They say, ‘Search warrant! Open the door, or we’re gonna tear it down!” Lynch told me for my ABC special “Bailouts and Bull” (

“I opened the door, and about 10 to 15 agents with shields, bulletproof vests, guns, masks. [They] threw me on the ground and … had a gun to the back of my head.”

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized 30 pounds of marijuana. Sheriff Pat Hedges said the facts were clear, “Charlie Lynch was making a profit off of selling marijuana.”

It wasn’t hard for the authorities to locate Lynch’s marijuana operation. They were probably tipped off by the public ribbon-cutting ceremony Lynch held – the one that the mayor of his town attended, along with city councilmen and the president of the Chamber of Commerce. The police were invited, too.

You see, Lynch sold medical marijuana, which has been declared legal by California and 12 other states. California says if a doctor recommends that you use the drug, it’s perfectly legal.

Singer Melissa Etheridge is happy about that. When she got breast cancer, chemotherapy took her hair and made her sick. She told me that chemo kills more than cancer. “It’s like putting acid in your body. You have absolutely no strength.”

The pills to treat the side effects have their own side effects.

She said, “Take the one drug for pain. It makes you constipated. So then you have to take the drug that helps you not be constipated. But that drug [gives you] diarrhea, and so you have to take another drug to combat the side effects of that.”

So her doctor recommended marijuana.

“I had a choice: those drugs and all these side effects, or … one remedy that takes care of all of the [side effects].”

It worked for high school student Owen Beck, too.

“I was playing soccer, and [my leg] was really hurting one day. … I went and got an MRI. It was a medium-sized tumor.”

Doctors amputated Owen’s leg and gave him chemotherapy. Chemo tortured him the way it tortured Etheridge.

“It destroys your appetite, and whatever you can eat, you throw up.”

When prescribed medicine didn’t relieve the side effects, his doctors suggested medical marijuana.

“With the marijuana, I could do what I needed to do during the day and just not be in pain. I could be comfortable.”

Owen bought his marijuana from Charlie Lynch’s dispensary. Sheriff Hedges says that Lynch’s business “is not in the best interests of the community.”

He was helping people, wasn’t he? I asked Hedges.

“Well, you’re making an assumption that he’s helping people. He was primarily helping himself.”

The sheriff’s office’s staked out Charlie’s dispensary and sent in undercover agents to see if Charlie was breaking any part of California’s law. He wasn’t.

So after a year of diligently documenting that marijuana was indeed being sold by a marijuana dispensary, the sheriff handed the case over to the federal police, the DEA. U.S. law ludicrously calls marijuana a schedule 1 narcotic. That puts it in the same category as heroin.

Federal authorities cleverly avoided California’s state courts and took Charlie into federal court, where his lawyers were not even allowed to tell the jury that medical marijuana is legal in California. Not surprisingly, Charlie was convicted. Possible sentence: 100 years in federal prison.

He told me his life has been destroyed. He is bankrupt; his girlfriend left him; and friends are afraid to talk to him.

President Obama has joked about his own marijuana use, but since his inauguration, federal police have raided five marijuana dispensaries in states where state law permits them. Last week, however, the administration announced it would no longer raid legal dispensaries. That bought Charlie Lynch some time. This week the federal judge postponed sentencing – pending more information about the Justice Department’s new policy.

The feds still wanted to lock up Charlie Lynch. I don’t know why. The DEA refuses to talk to me about it.

The war on drugs is idiotic. It deters few, drives drug use underground – making it more dangerous – and creates horrible crime.

Adults should be free to ingest whatever they want, knowing they are responsible for their actions.


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