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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Medical Marijuana Providers Go to Prison. Will President Obama Intervene?

Posted By on Thu, Apr 28, 2011 at 9:25 AM

click to enlarge This pretty much sums it up
  • This pretty much sums it up

Dr. Mollie Fry and her husband, Dale Schafer, are ill.

Fry is a breast-cancer survivor with severe mental-health issues, and Schafer's hemophilia means he is frequently bedridden. So he will have to be in a prison hospital beginning May 2, when the couple will begin five-year sentences for providing medical marijuana in 2001.

Unless President Barack Obama shows them some mercy.

Obama has one week to step in and commute the sentences -- or the couple will go to prison for what they claim was legally providing marijuana. Fry and Schafer say they should be protected by California's medical cannabis laws. 

"This is terribly unjust," says San Francisco-based attorney Laurence J. Lichter, the couple's counsel. "Mollie only wanted to practice good

medicine, and she was doing so with advice that it was legal."

But with some 4,000 clemency pleas pending, getting their sentence commuted seems highly unlikely, according to Margaret Love, a Washington, D.C-based attorney who served as the United States pardon attorney from 1990 to 1997.

First, the couple's health is unlikely to be a factor in a clemency consideration. Nor will the fact that they have no prior record.

Love him or hate him, President George W. Bush handed out pardons to some drug offenders, but many had already served the bulk of their lengthy sentences. Obama has been much tougher. To date, the president has commuted no sentences at all, Love says.

If Fry and Schafer are to be shown mercy, it's more likely it'll be while they're already wearing prison jumpsuits. In recent years, only one federal con has had a sentence commuted prior to going to jail -- and he was very well-connected: Remember I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to then-Vice President Dick Cheney? He was convicted of leaking CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity to the media, but Bush commuted his 30-month prison term in 2007.

Even if Obama was generous with clemency, it's unclear how friendly he'd be to those folks his own Justice Department fought to keep in jail. As we reported in our cover story this month, the president hasn't shown much policy shift on medical-marijuana enforcement despite insistence to the contrary. While it was Bush's Justice Department that put the couple in prison, it is Obama's that will keep them there.

After former Attorney General John Ashcroft won convictions in 2003, it was Attorney General Eric Holder's employees who successfully fought an appeal of the couple's sentences at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the sentencing hearing, federal Judge Frank Damrell reluctantly sentenced Fry and Schafer to 60 months, which is the minimum time for possessing 100 or more marijuana plants (the couple admits to possessing them, but they claim it was over a three-year period).

"We're doing this to help the judge more than anyone else -- though certainly Mollie and Dale, too," says Lichter, who admits the likelihood of a reprieve prior to Monday is slim. "Hopefully," he adds, "the president and the American people will notice."

So watch to see what happens come May 2, when the couple will rally in Sacramento prior to surrendering themselves at the Federal Building.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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