The Justice Department announced (pdf) over the weekend that it will not intervene in the case of Charlie Lynch, the California man convicted on federal charges of drug distribution despite the fact that his business was legal under California law. The federal judge in Lynch’s case had postponed Lynch’s sentencing to inquire if the Obama administration might want to back off, given Attorney General Holder’s recent statements about not prosecuting medical marijuana distributors who are complying with state and local law.
It would be merely disappointing had the DOJ based its decision not to intervene on the fact that a verdict had already been rendered in Lynch’s case. But the DOJ response goes much further, specifically stating that the entire prosecution of Lynch is consistent with the government’s new position on medical marijuana, as laid out by Holder. It’s hard to say, then, exactly what distinguishes Obama’s position on medical marijuana from Bush’s. Lynch sought out and received assurance from state and local authorities that he was in complete compliance with state and local law. If that isn’t enough to meet Holder’s new policy, what is?
The decision looks particularly ugly in light of Obama’s continuing efforts to protect former President Bush's torture team from prosecution—from Dick Cheney, John Yoo, and Jay Bybee on down to the CIA operatives who actually administered the torture techniques. The message from Obama seems to be that when it comes to powerful government employees and covert agents breaking the law, he’s going to “look forward” and do everything he can to protect them from being held accountable, up to and including questionable assertions of executive power. Regular people who may violate ambiguous laws, on the other hand, can expect no such “looking forward,” just more of the same: the full brunt force of government crashing down on top of them.
Background on Charlie Lynch’s case: