A medical-marijuana advocate who grew 32,000 plants on his land in Lake County was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday by a federal judge who criticized the law she was applying.
“I think that amount of time is excessive, but it’s not up to me,” U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said in sentencing Charles “Eddy” Lepp in a San Francisco courtroom crowded with his supporters.
Patel gave Lepp until July 6 to report to prison and said she would reconsider the sentence if Congress changed the law, which requires a 10-year term for growing at least 1,000 marijuana plants.
Lepp, 56, was arrested in 2004 after federal agents said they had found more than 32,000 marijuana plants in gardens near his home in Upper Lake, most of them in plain view of Highway 20.
He said the plants were all for patients who had a right to use marijuana with their doctors’ approval under California law. Courts have ruled, however, that the state law does not bar federal prosecutions.
Lepp also said he was a Rastafarian minister, for whom the plants were a sacrament, and was growing the plants for 2,500 members of his church who were sharecroppers. Patel barred the religious defense last year, saying Lepp could not credibly claim that his faith compelled him to distribute thousands of plants to unidentified parishioners.
A jury convicted Lepp in September of conspiracy and cultivation with the intent to distribute marijuana. His lawyer, Michael Hinckley, argued for a lesser sentence, but Patel said the 10-year term was mandatory because the evidence showed Lepp led the operation and supervised others.
Hinckley also argued in court papers that the sentence was “grossly disproportional” to the crimes and that Lepp, who is in frail health, would not survive 10 years in prison. Hinckley said Monday he would appeal the sentence.
– Article from The San Francisco Chronicle.
Eddy Lepp Receives 10-year Mandatory Minimum for Medical Marijuana
SAN FRANCISCO – May 18th. US District Judge Marilyn Patel sentenced Eddy Lepp to ten years mandatory minimum for having grown over 1,000 marijuana plants for a medical marijuana garden in Lake County.
Patel called the sentence “excessive,” but said she had no choice under federal law. In addition, she sentenced Lepp to five years of supervised release with drug testing. She invited Lepp to file for a rehearing in case the law should change.
Lepp called it “very, very sad” that the government showed no compassion, saying”I’ve broken no laws of the state in which I reside.” He asked that he be allowed to surrender himself voluntarily, noting that he had met every court date over the seven years of his case and that his daughter had health problems.
US attorney Dave Hall opposed the request, arguing that the government had new evidence of Lepp’s involvement in a marijuana grow that was traced to a neighbor’s property last week. Lepp’s friends staunchly deny that he had any involvement in the grow.
Patel granted Lepp’s request and set a surrender date of July 6th, while inviting the government to submit any additional incriminating evidence it might have to demand an earlier surrender.
Patel ruled that Lepp was ineligible for the “safety valve” exemption to the mandatory minimum on two grounds. First, the evidence showed that Lepp had been a leader or organizer of other people in his activity. Secondly, the government claimed that he had failed give a full and truthful account of his activities. At his trial, Lepp had testified that he did not grow any marijuana, but simply let his land be used for cultivation by other patients. The government had asked Lepp to recant this claim and admit that he grew the marijuana.
Lepp refused, saying he had testified truthfully.
“I’ve never seen a man work harder to get time in prison than Mr. Lepp,” remarked Mr Hall.
“I would rather do ten years and be able to look myself in the eyes than never be able to look myself in the eyes again,” said Lepp.
The courtroom burst into gasps and sobs as Patel pronounced her sentence. Lepp’s attorney, Michael Hinckley, called it an “incredible sentence.” Patel responded, “Incredible is what the law requires.”
Patel noted that Lepp’s driving passion appeared to be legalizing marijuana. “Maybe you want to be a martyr for the cause,” she said.
California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer commented: “This case sadly illustrates the senselessness of federal marijuana laws. The last thing this country needs is more medical marijuana prisoners. Hopefully, we can change the law and get Eddy out of jail before he completes his sentence.”
– Article from California NORML.