SAN FRANCISCO Charles “Eddy” Lepp was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
He was convicted in September 2008 of cultivating and possessing more than 1,000 marijuana plants with the intent to distribute them.
Federal agents and Lake County Sheriff’s Department officials raided Lepp’s 20-acre garden in August
2004 and seized more than 32,000 plants. The incident spurred a legal battle, with Lepp claiming the marijuana was to be used for religious and medical purposes.
“I’m not really surprised,” Lepp said Monday. “There are appeals already written for both the conviction and the sentence, and they will be in the judge’s chambers by the end of the day today. I feel very confident we’ll win on appeal.”
Lepp received the mandatory sentence after presiding U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Patel ruled he didn’t qualify for a safety valve allowance that would have allowed a lesser sentence, including Lepp’s release after the 65 days he had already served.
“There was nearly a riot when it was announced because everybody went crazy,” Lepp said.
He estimated more than 150 supporters filled the courtroom, in addition to 40 or more who waited in the lobby and nearly 50 protestors outside the courthouse.
Lepp was released to turn himself in on a date to be determined, and was at the home of medical marijuana activist Dennis Peron, who co-authored Proposition 215 to make marijuana available as a medicine. Lepp said he expects to receive notification in six to eight weeks telling him where and when to turn himself in to serve his sentence.
Patel recommended Lepp serve his sentence in a low-security camp where he can receive medical treatment for his physical and psychological ailments, according to Lepp’s San Francisco defense attorney, Mike Hinckley.
Hinckley said the safety valve was denied because the court didn’t believe he had taken responsibility for growing the marijuana on his land. Lepp, an ordained minister of the Universal Church of Life, said members of his Upper Lake ministry grew the marijuana.
“Eddy explained his roll with the field was to make it available for people to grow on it,” Hinckley said. “He encouraged people to grow on it who were members of his church who had medical marijuana cards, but the marijuana on the field was not his and belonged to the people growing it. Essentially, they said he was lying.”
Hinckley said his appeal is based in part on Lepp’s right to present a religious defense. He said other factors include evidentiary proceedings during the trial.
Lepp said he and his family have received a lot of support from the community since he was first raided in 1998.
“Again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so very, very much for your support,” Lepp said.
Contact Tiffany Revelle at email@example.com, or call her directly at 263-5636, ext. 37.