A Lake County marijuana activist who says he grew the herb for medical and religious purposes is slated to be sentenced by a federal judge in San Francisco Monday for cultivating more than 1,000 plants.
Charles “Eddy” Lepp, 56, was convicted in the court of U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel in September of growing marijuana on 20 acres he owned adjacent to state Highway 20 in Upper Lake.
A jury found Lepp guilty of two counts: conspiring to cultivate more than 1,000 plants with intent to
distribute them and cultivating more than 1,000 plants.
He will be sentenced by Patel in her Federal Building courtroom Monday morning.
Under federal sentencing law, the convictions carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors have asked for that penalty, saying it is “the lowest possible sentence the court can impose.”
But Lepp, a disabled Vietnam veteran who says he is now a Rastafarian minister, has asked Patel to use a so-called “safety valve” exception in the law and sentence him to home detention.
Lepp’s attorney argued in a brief filed last week that Lepp is in poor health, from ailments including emphysema and post-traumatic stress disorder, and that 10 years would in effect be a life sentence.
Defense attorney Michael Hinckley also cited statements in which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appeared to say in March that in the future, federal prosecutors won’t go after people who grow marijuana in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
Hinckley wrote that in view of the apparent change in future policy, “Ten years for growing marijuana to be used medicinally, religiously, or for that matter, even recreationally, is clearly excessive.”
Prosecutors made no mention of Holder’s statement in their sentencing brief last week. They argued Lepp is not eligible for a safety valve exception because he allegedly was a leader of a cultivation enterprise.
Lepp was not allowed to argue at his trial last year that he was growing marijuana for medical purposes because federal law does not allow that defense. Patel also declined to allow him to argue that he needed marijuana for his Rastafarian religious practice.
While Lepp was convicted of growing more than 1,000 plants, the actual amount in his fields was more than that. Prosecutors said in their brief that both sides stipulated at the trial that number of plants was 15,724 and that Lepp testified that the number was 32,000.
Lepp’s farm was raided by federal drug agents on Aug. 18, 2004, after the Lake County Sheriff’s Department received reports that a large amount of marijuana could be seen growing near the highway. He was indicted later in 2004.