2011-07-28 "Court upholds 10-year term in medical pot case" by Bob Egelko from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
A federal appeals court upheld the conviction and 10-year sentence Wednesday of a medical marijuana advocate who grew 32,000 pot plants for patients and fellow Rastafarians on his land in Lake County.
The federal judge who sent Charles "Eddy" Lepp to prison in 2009 criticized the federal law that required a 10-year term for growing at least 1,000 marijuana plants. But U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of San Francisco said she was bound by the law, and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
"The statutory minimum sentence is not cruel and unusual punishment," the three-judge panel said.
Federal agents arrested Lepp in 2004 after finding the marijuana plants in gardens near his home in Upper Lake, most of them in view of Highway 20.
He said the plants were for patients who had a right to use marijuana with their doctors' approval under California law. Lepp also said that he was a Rastafarian minister, for whom marijuana is a sacrament, and that he was growing the plants for 2,500 members of his church who were sharecroppers.
Federal law strictly bans marijuana, however, even in states that allow its medical use. The appeals court upheld Patel's refusal to allow Lepp to invoke his religion as a defense to the charges, saying his prosecution served the government's "compelling interest in preventing diversion of sacramental marijuana to non-religious users."
Lepp's lawyer, Michael Hinckley, had argued that the 10-year sentence was grossly disproportionate to the crimes. Hinckley said that he was disappointed by Wednesday's ruling and that "the thought of him spending 10 years in prison, in circumstances like these, is tragic."