ACTION ITEM - Local medical marijuana activist faces multiple life terms in jail - hearing 930am Monday 2/28 (SF)

Come support Eddy in court on Monday. He's been in jail for over 10 days now. See Ann Harrison's blog about our visit with Eddy (below.)

Who: Eddy Lepp, Eddy's Medicinal Gardens
What: Bail Hearing
When: Monday 2/28 9:30 am (supporters are gathering at 9am)
Where: SF Federal Building, 450 Golden Gate Ave. SF

Eddy Lepp Plans A Religious Defense

Ann Harrison's Blog Entry

San Francisco, CA Feb. 26, 2005 -- Interviewed inside the Santa Rita Jail last night, Eddy Lepp said he will represent himself in court to fight federal marijuana cultivation charges that could condemn him to five life sentences. Lepp will argue that his cannabis crop, seized twice by the DEA, was not only lawful, it was an expression of religious freedom.

"It's the only thing that can save me," said Lepp. "Those sons of bitches have violated my church."

Lepp says that in 1996, when his wife was struck with thyroid cancer and underwent surgery, he smoked a joint at the base of a large pine tree and made a deal with God. "I asked him to give her the strength to live, and in return I would plant cannabis for sick people," said Lepp. "I made a promise to Jesus, what am I going to do, lie to God?"

Lepp started a church with his wife Linda and took donations from 4,000 medical cannabis patients in return for growing medical cannabis for them. Lepp says he will base his religious argument on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the legal protection extended to the Native American Church which uses sacramental peyote.

Lepp was arrested at his home in Lake County on February 16 and has been in custody awaiting a detention hearing. According to the criminal complaint, the DEA seized approximately 6,300 marijuana plants from his property and allege that they have a recording of Lepp selling a pound of "high-THC marijuana" to an undercover agent. Both Lepp and co-defendant Daniel Barnes were charged with distribution of marijuana, conspiracy to distribute marijuana and maintaining a premise for the purpose of cultivating marijuana. Barnes, who allegedly dropped off the pound to a buyer, was released from custody on February 23rd.

Lepp says he was pressured to sell cannabis by another grower who had earlier been arrested. But Lepp said he turned the offer down and another person stepped in to sell the pound. According to Lepp, the live marijuana seized from his house included 700 to 800 plants and the rest were seedlings or unrooted clones.

At the time of his arrest, Lepp was fighting two earlier cultivation charges stemming from a raid last August when federal agents seized 37,000 marijuana plants from his farm. Lepp was released on bond and staged a three-week hunger strike to protest his prosecution. While Lepp said he wanted to be "respectful" of Judge Marilyn Patel who had released him, he said the cannabis seized were starter plants that needed to be sowed in the spring for the patient's crop the following autumn.

Lepp says the federal government has begun forfeiture proceedings against one of his fields where he grew cannabis and he fears they will attempt to seize the rest of his farm. "I put my life on the line for my country in Viet Nam and now they are trying to take my life away from me," said Lepp.

Lepp said he asked his attorney, Dennis Roberts, to file an injunction against the government five months ago based on the religious freedom argument. But Lepp said he ended up filing the injunction himself and Judge Patel has yet to respond. While being transported to court in handcuffs and leg irons for a February 23rd detention hearing, Lepp caught his leg shackle on a chair and tumbled to the ground in a bruising fall that injured his back. He was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where he lay on a backboard for nine hours and was then sent back to jail. Lepp says he's been in lock down inside his cell for a week and has not had a visitor in eight days.

Lepp's wife Linda says Roberts is vacationing in Hawaii and has not answered their calls. Lepp is now represented by federal defender David Fermino who called in sick and failed to show up in court for Lepp's February 25th detention hearing. According to Lepp, Fermino has told him that Lepp can't represent himself pro-per. Lepp said Fermino is also refusing to be co-counsel with Roberts who, so far, is representing Lepp on the August charges. "I don't have any money, Dennis might drop me like a hot potato," said Lepp.

Out of cash and facing multiple life terms in prison, Lepp is hoping that Tony Serra was serious when he once offered to represent Lepp free of charge. "Tony Serra said he would do this case, I want him to be part of it," said Lepp.

Lepp was visited in Santa Rita Jail last night by Stacey Swimme, field manager for Americans For Safe Access which represents medical cannabis patients and caregivers. Swimme said she would help Lepp get in touch with Serra, carry a message to his wife, get him some denture adhesive, and help put money in his jail account so Lepp could buy soap. According to Swimme, someone had called Lepp's house trying to raise money for Lepp's "legal fund," but his family said they had not started a fundraising effort.

Until U.S. Magistrate Maria Elena James rules on whether Lepp can be released again on bond, Lepp will remain at the Santa Rita Jail. He is under no visiting restrictions, but says he is having a hard time eating. "I haven't had a shower or a change of clothes in nine days," said Lepp. "I've had no time to call anyone, and I've been to court three times and haven't seen a judge."

Lepp's next scheduled detention hearing is set for February 28th at 9:30 am.