Jail for Selling Medical Marijuana

John Stossel examines a situation where federal government trumps state law.

ByABC News
March 9, 2009, 3:32 PM

March 10, 2009— -- If the voters in your state say it's OK to do something, is it?

Apparently not.

Charlie Lynch learned that the hard way, when federal authorities raided his home and small business in southern California in March 2007.

"I hear the banging of my front door," Lynch recalled. "I opened the door and about 10 to 15 agents with shields, bullet-proof vests, guns, masks, they came barreling in."

Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized 30 pounds of marijuana from Lynch's business. The action wasn't a surprise to San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Pat Hedges, who had been investigating Lynch for about a year.

What tipped the sheriff off to Lynch's operation? It may have been the ribbon-cutting ceremony that Lynch held when he started selling marijuana.

Lynch wasn't dealing drugs in back alleys. He was selling medical marijuana. He had applied for a business license, joined the Chamber of Commerce, consulted with attorneys and even called the DEA before opening his medical marijuana dispensary.

Thirteen states, including California, allow patients to use marijuana for medicinal use, and Lynch was selling marijuana to patients whose doctors had recommended the drug. Hundreds of dispensaries across California have helped thousands of patients to access medical marijuana.

Singer Melissa Etheridge, now 47, was one of those patients. When she was diagnosed with cancer about five years ago, she underwent intensive rounds of chemo.

"It's like putting acid in your body," Etheridge said of the treatment. "You lose your hair, you have absolutely no strength."

With the chemo treatments came the side effects, and the drugs that doctors prescribed Melissa to treat them caused more side effects.

"Take the one drug for pain, it has the side effect of, it makes you constipated," Etheridge said. "So then you have to take the drug that helps you not be constipated. But that drug, that's going to make you get diarrhea, and so you have to take another drug to combat the side effects of that."

Etheridge chose to use marijuana instead, and found that the drug helped her.

"When it comes to the medicinal use of this herb, it is nothing about getting high," Etheridge said. "You're not getting high. You are trying to get to a place of normal."