Should medical marijuana be kept from minors at all costs? Why is it that pharmacists can dispense amphetamines without getting busted, but legal operators who dispense medical marijuana face prison time? Why do armed federal agents persist in raiding California?
With its sun, surf and small town atmosphere, California's San Louis Obispo County is a good place to grow up. Seventeen-year-old Owen Beck played football and soccer for a local high school, but one day his thoughts abruptly turned away from sports and school. Doctors told Owen he had bone cancer, and would have to begin chemotherapy right away.
The young athlete suffered another blow—doctors would have to amputate his leg to try to keep the cancer from spreading. Chemotherapy attacked Owen's cancer and his body, leaving him bald, gaunt, and vomiting the food he needed to recover. The amputation introduced Owen to a bizarre, new agony called phantom pain, and although doctors gave him powerful medication, nothing helped.
But might a new kind of pharmacy offer new hope? A medical marijuana dispensary had recently opened in the nearby city of Morro Bay. More than a decade earlier, California voters legalized medical marijuana and Morro Bay's mayor and Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the dispensary, and its owner Charlie Lynch.
Owen's parents knew the idea of giving medical marijuana to a 17-year-old strikes many people as scandalous. Local Sheriff Pat Hedges even asserts that allowing medical marijuana is "not in the best interest of a community that prides itself on providing a healthy, family environment."
But the Becks weren't concerned about what other people thought; they were focused on helping their son. So with a written doctor recommendation in hand, they purchased medical marijuana for their teenage son. The new medication eased Owen's pain and nausea like nothing else had, and the Becks grew fond of Charlie Lynch, who would sometimes refuse payment because, says Steve Beck, "He was just a compassionate kind of a guy."
But one day, Owen's life took another abrupt turn. Federal agents and local sheriff deputies raided Charlie Lynch's dispensary, and seized nearly everything inside, including Owen's medicine. "He had a prescription from a doctor at Stanford, and they took his stuff!" says Debbie Beck. Federal agents cuffed Lynch, and put him behind bars. Even though state and local laws allow for it, medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law. And because he had clients like Owen who were under age 21, Charlie Lynch faces heightened penalties. In California the average first-degree murder serves 20 years behind bars; Charlie Lynch could face a sentence as long as 100 years in prison.
The trial of Charlie Lynch begins this July.