Posted by Don Duncan
Federal Judge Oliver Wanger sentenced Luke Scarmazzo to nearly 22 years and co-defendant Ricardo Ruiz Montes to 20 years in prison last week for their roles in operating a medical cannabis facility in Modesto. Both men were convicted in May, after prosecutors used a hip-hop music video recorded by Scarmazzo to defame and persecute the defendants, who were providing medical marijuana to patients in an underserved area of the state.
Regardless of the imprudence of recording a confrontational video, which demonizes the DEA and its war on medical marijuana, the conviction and sentencing of the two medical marijuana providers was entirely inappropriate and uncalled for. In fact, the two young men, both in their twenties, received unprecedented sentences in a medical marijuana case. Raising the ire of local and federal law enforcement and provoking sensationalized media coverage in no way justifies putting Scarmazzo and Montes in prison for far longer than many violent offenders.
Local police, the DEA, and Judge Wagner made examples of Scarmazzo and Montes – and that should be of grave concern to other federal defendants currently awaiting sentencing. For example, the lengthy sentences of Scarmazzo and Montes will surely influence the February 23rd sentencing of controversial medical marijuana cultivator Eddy Lepp and the January 12th sentencing of licensed dispensary operator Charles C. Lynch, whose arrest and prosecution was also the result of a conspiracy between local and federal law enforcement.
Medical cannabis advocates are justifiably optimistic about the opportunity for change given the new presidential administration and the shift in Congress. President-elect Obama has a rare opportunity to correct this miscarriage of justice and a reinvigorated Congress has the ability to implement a sensible and compassionate federal policy. In the weeks and months ahead, we must not forget those federal defendants and prisoners who have been victimized by an antiquated medical marijuana policy. But we must also look to the future and begin to aid our government in crafting the best possible solution for the hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients in the U.S.
ASA recently published a set of policy recommendations for President-elect Obama that call for fundamental changes in the way the U.S. Department of Justice enforces laws against medical cannabis patients and providers. ASA is calling for an end to medical cannabis raids by the DEA And working toward an affirmative medical cannabis defense in federal court, addressing the current inability of defendants to talk about their medical use or the legality of their actions under state law. ASA is also calling on President-elect Obama to pardon those medical cannabis patients and providers currently serving time in federal prison.
I am confident that we will soon succeed in harmonizing federal law with the laws of the thirteen states that sanction medical cannabis use, and expanding protection for all Americans who use cannabis as medicine. In the meantime, we must not forget those medical cannabis providers who have taken bold steps to advance this movement and come to the aid of patients in need, but who are made to be martyrs for a federal policy that is out of step with the will of the people. As an initial step, we must recognize this inconsistency by ending federal raids and prosecutions, and by allowing those medical cannabis patients and providers currently in prison to come home.