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Ventura County

Pot Advocates Face Up to 40 Years

Courts: Federal charges are filed against Lockwood Valley couple who admit growing and using marijuana for medicinal purposes. Trial set for Oct. 22.


Lockwood Valley residents Lynn and Judy Osburn, medical marijuana advocates repeatedly targeted by authorities for growing pot, have been charged in federal court in a case that could land them in prison for up to 40 years.

A federal prosecutor said Tuesday he is preparing his case against the couple following their most recent arrest, in which U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized 32 marijuana plants at the Osburns' northern Ventura County ranch.

Los Angeles-based Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald declined to comment on the case other than to say that growing and possessing pot is a federal crime despite a medical marijuana initiative approved by California voters in 1996.

Marijuana activists, who are following the case closely, say they are concerned about the couple's fate.

"They're up against an awful serious disaster here, and it's going to be very difficult for them to make an argument," said Scott Imler, former president of the now-closed Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Cooperative, for which the Osburns have admitted they supplied marijuana.

According to a federal grand jury indictment returned Aug. 28, the couple were charged with growing marijuana, conspiracy and maintaining a drug house. Lynn Osburn was also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Because of strict federal guidelines in narcotics cases, Lynn Osburn, 52, is being held without bail in a federal jail in Los Angeles. His wife, 49, was allowed to post a $150,000 bond in late August.

Their trial is scheduled for Oct. 22. If convicted, the Osburns each face a minimum mandatory sentence of five years in prison and a maximum of 40 years.

The case is the culmination of a two-year effort by federal narcotics agents and the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

The agencies have worked together to seize marijuana plants from the couple on several occasions without filing charges against them.

Since the passage in 1996 of the state's Proposition 215, which allows seriously ill people to smoke pot with a doctor's recommendation, local authorities have been reluctant to prosecute such cases.

County law enforcement officials in June officially adopted a set of guidelines that allow a legitimate medicinal user to possess six plants of any size or 1 pound of dried pot.

In July, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that residents who grow marijuana for personal medical use are protected from state prosecution if they have their doctor's approval.

Under federal law, however, marijuana possession is illegal. In a U.S. Supreme Court case last year, justices rejected a medical necessity argument made by an Oakland marijuana cooperative.

Eric Nishimoto, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, declined to explain how the county's case against the Osburns became a federal case. Attorneys for the Osburns were not available for comment.

The case against the Osburns, who are well-known activists and authors of "Green Gold: the Tree of Life," a history of pot use in major religions, was built on evidence gathered in three raids at the 60-acre farm where they have lived for 25 years.

In the largest seizure, county sheriff's deputies confiscated 342 marijuana plants on Aug. 4, 2000. The couple and two colleagues were arrested but later released. Charges were never filed.

During the raid, authorities also seized two pistols, two revolvers, a shotgun and a rifle owned by Lynn Osburn. Federal authorities contend he is not allowed to possess such weapons after being convicted in 1989 of growing pot and possessing a machine gun.

On Aug. 10, 2001, federal authorities joined local deputies in the seizure of 273 pot plants at the ranch as the couple stood by and watched. No charges were filed, but local authorities announced that the case would be forwarded to federal officials for review.

At the time of the second bust, the Osburns told authorities they were growing the pot for the Los Angeles cannabis club's 900 medicinal patients. In October 2001, federal agents raided the cannabis club and seized everything inside, effectively shuttering the operation for good, Imler said.

The couple allegedly replanted after the 2001 raid and on Aug. 13, federal and local authorities returned and seized what the Osburns' supporters contend was the couple's personal supply of 35 plants.

Lynn Osburn uses marijuana to ease severe back pain from a swimming accident several years ago, and his wife smokes to relieve constant muscle spasms in her lower back. Both claim to be legitimate patients.

"I'm surprised they replanted. It was a risk," said Imler, who emphasized his strong support for the couple. "At a certain point, you've got to take 'no' for an answer and live to fight another battle and see another day."

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