When Charles Lynch asked local officials for permission to sell an herbal medicine in the central California town of Morro Bay, they granted it to him even though the medicine was marijuana.
That's because marijuana recommended by a doctor has been legal in California since 1996. A dozen other states have passed similar laws. Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and New Hampshire are among about ten states that have been debating similar measures.
So Charlie applied for a business license, joined the Chamber of Commerce, talked to lawyers and even called the Drug Enforcement Administration before opening his medical marijuana dispensary with a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Unfortunately for Charlie, none of this prevented him from being arrested in March 2007 when federal authorities raided his home and small business.
That's because the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Gonzalez v. Raich in 2005 that in the issue of medical marijuana federal law trumps the states.
"Today's decision," crowed Bush's drug czar, John Walters, at the time, "marks the end of medical marijuana as a political issue."
Well, not quite. President Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Justice Department will stop raiding marijuana dispensaries in California and other states that allow medical marijuana.
But that doesn't help Charlie, whose sentencing is set for March 23. Lynch, who tried to conduct his business as openly and legally as possible under the laws enacted by Californians, is one of the more poignant examples of nonviolent offenders arrested and jailed by federal raiders.
Putting the brakes on medical marijuana raids is only one small step of the many that still need to be taken toward a sensible drug policy after years of backpedaling by President Bush.
Obama apparently likes to multi-task. Faced with a long list of thorny issues, he's decided to take them on all at once while his honeymoon lasts. While he's at it, he needs to modernize federal policy on the medicinal use of marijuana. Stopping the raids in state's where it's legal is good for starters. He also needs to lift what has amounted to a ban on scientific research and push to change federal law that currently equates marijuana with heroin.
That's right. Since 1971, marijuana has been classified as a "Schedule I" narcotic, meaning it has no medical value. That's the same category as heroin. And as if that's not goofy enough, that would suggest marijuana is more dangerous than crack cocaine, a Schedule II drug that no one in the sane world describes as more dangerous than pot.
Yet that's the kind of thinking that gave a green light for the DEA to terrorize growers, providers, caregivers and patients with hundreds of commando-style raids. At least 90 major raids have been conducted by DEA agents in California, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates legalization of medicinal marijuana.
The Bush administration justified the federal crackdown against the medicinal use of marijuana as a way to stop some people from abusing the drug as if some people didn't abuse every type of drug, legal or otherwise. In fact, the same rationale was used to justify alcohol prohibition a century ago. That didn't work out so well either.
Walters, like the drug czars before him, argued that the law must rely on scientific research, "not popular opinion." Yet 10 years after a study commissioned by President Bill Clinton's administration found medical value in smoked marijuana, the Bush experts say that's not enough.
Days before Obama's inauguration, the DEA denied an application by Professor Lyle Craker, who has been fighting in and out of court for eight years to obtain a license to conduct further DEA-approved research. Yet his study is the sort that must be done to provide the sort of data that the Bush administration said was lacking.
President Obama recently reversed much of what has been called the Bush administration's "war against science." He needs to turn around the war against medicinal marijuana research, too.