Lake County pot grower sentenced to 10 years in prison
Published: Monday, May 18, 2009 at 8:55 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 18, 2009 at 4:22 p.m.
A Lake County man who pushed the boundaries of medical marijuana laws by growing more than 20,000 pot plants in plain view was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison.
U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Patel ordered Charles “Eddy” Lepp, 56, to turn himself in to federal authorities July 6, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Hall.
His supporters, outraged and upset, wept in the courtroom as Patel handed down the sentence, said Lepp’s assistant, Rachel Cohen.
Lepp was convicted last year of conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute more than 1,000 pot plants and of cultivating more than 1,000 plants.
Ten years was the minimum mandatory sentence, Hall said. The maximum was life.
Lepp also will be subject to five years of supervised release following his prison sentence, Hall said.
Defense attorneys had argued that Lepp should not go to prison because he is in poor health. Lepp has said he will appeal last year’s conviction. He claims he is entitled to use pot for religious and medical reasons, but was not allowed to use those claims during his federal trial. Federal authorities do not recognize medical marijuana.
Lepp also has said that the marijuana plants were not his. He contended they were owned by individuals who belong to his ministry — the Multi Denominational Ministry of Cannabis and Rastafari.
Marijuana legalization advocates denounced Lepp’s prison sentence.
“Locking up Eddy Lepp serves no purpose and is a huge waste of life and scarce prison space,” said Aaron Smith, California policy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “The community would be a lot better served if we taxed and regulated California’s $14 billion marijuana industry rather than continuing to incarcerate non-violent people like Eddy, who are clearly of no danger to society.”
Lepp’s conviction stems from a 2004 raid on his Upper Lake pot operation, where authorities said they seized about 25,000 plants. Lepp has said the number of plants was higher.
High Times magazine, a publication focused on marijuana production and laws, said it was the single largest crop of medical pot seized in the United States. The plants were grown in neat rows in plain view of Highway 20 and next door to a strawberry field.
Investigators estimated the crop could have been worth more than $80 million had they been allowed to mature.
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