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United States v. Eddy Lepp (2004-present)

posted Jan 28, 2013, 2:17 AM by The Editor   [ updated Feb 8, 2013, 2:51 AM ]

After an August 18, 2004 raid on Charles "Eddy" Lepp's northern California property, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported the seizure of 32,524 marijuana plants. According to Lepp, these plants were being grown by members of his Rasta ministry for qualified medical patients under California’s Compassionate Use Act. To the federal government, which doesn’t recognize state medical marijuana law, the grow was considered entirely illegal and Lepp was prosecuted accordingly.

Over the next four years, he won a number of victories against the U.S. government, overcoming charges from a botched sales sting against him and getting the search warrant for his raid thrown out of court. The case went downhill, however, when the judge ruled that the plants could remain in evidence because they were in plain sight from a public highway. The same judge subsequently denied Lepp’s religious use claim, ruling that rights of religious expression were overriden by the government’s interest in preventing the diversion of such a large quantity of marijuana. Lepp was still reeling from that denial, which he vehemently disputes, when his case finally went to trial in late August 2008.

Lepp himself took the stand in order to tell the jury that he was not guilty because he had not personally grown any of the marijuana; as he put it, he had simply opened up his land for use by members of his Rasta church. However, Lepp was unable to convince the jury of this claim. His emotional testimony about caregiving for his recently-deceased wife also failed to sway the jurors towards acquittal.

On September 2, 2008 Lepp was found guilty by a federal jury on one count of conspiracy to distribute or to possess with the intent to distribute, and another count for manufacture or possession with the intent to distribute. Jurors found that the offenses involved at least a thousand marijuana plants, punishable by 10-year mandatory minimum. The court rejected Lepp's claim of constitutional protection for religious and medical use.

During Lepp’s sentencing in May 2009, the judge reluctantly sentenced him to ten years in federal prison, saying the penalty was excessive but that she was constrained by mandatory minimum sentencing laws.  In July 2011, a federal appeals court upheld Eddy Lepp’s conviction and 10-year sentence for cultivating 32,000 marijuana plants for patients and fellow Rastafarians. The cannabis grown on his land was owned by 2,500 members of his legal California patient co-operative.

Contributions to his Eddy's prison account can be made through Green Aid.