By Art Cosgrove
Oregon Cannabis Connection
Cannabis culture hero Eddy Lepp was released earlier today, Wednesday, December 7th, after serving seven and half years of a ten-year sentence in federal prison for illegal cultivation of marijuana plants.
The 64-year-old activist and religious figure was released from the Federal prison camp in Florence, Colorado to a halfway house in Sacraamento, California where he will serve out the remainder of his sentence, ending in February of 2018. While not completely free, Lepp will finally enjoy some basic freedoms he’s been without since his conviction in 2009.
The Vietnam veteran was arrested for growing some 20,000 plus marijuana plants in open view of the state highway, while living in Lake County, in northern California. A vigorous defense was attempted based on his contention that the plants were for medical purposes for the Multi Denominational Ministry of Cannabis and Rastafari. The religious group lost their court case to get recognition of their use of marijuana and Lepp wasn’t allowed to use religious or medical defenses at his trial leaving him, essentially, defenseless.
His ten-year sentence was seen as particularly harsh considering the ongoing debate about the role of the federal government in prosecutions of actions that are legal at the state level. His disqualification from the “safety valve” precaution, which can allow for lesser sentences in cases with harsh mandatory minimums, was a rallying cry for his supporters and the legalization movement.
“Maybe you want to be martyr for the cause,” his sentencing judge, Marilyn Patel, said after denying leniency. “That will be your lot.”
The “safety valve” was prohibited to Lepp due to his refusal to admit he grew the marijuana himself- he contended from the start that he merely allowed others to use his land- and for his association with those growers in some sort of a criminal drug enterprise.
Of course it wasn’t a criminal enterprise by state standards.
Many see Lepp, who has been described by supporters as a Rastafarian minister who would freely distribute marijuana to medical patients and by the law as merely a drug dealer, as a bona fide hero.
Lepp will also be stuck with a five year probation on top of his time in the halfway house, but he has reportedly remained quite upbeat throughout his imprisonment and accompanying medical difficulties. He put his position on the experience quite plainly at his sentencing hearing in 2009.
“I would rather do ten years and be able to look myself in the eyes than never be able to look myself in the eyes again.”
Photo credit Gooey Rabinski at gooeyrabinski.com.
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