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Vietnam Veteran, Caregiver, Truthteller & Martyr

Eddy Lepp

California medical marijuana grower, spiritualist, and activist Eddy Lepp was sentenced Monday to a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence on federal marijuana cultivation charges in a case where he grew more than 20,000 pot plants in plain view of a state highway in Northern California's Lake County. US District Court Judge Marilyn Patel also sentenced him to five years probation.

Lepp contended that the plants were a medical marijuana grow for members of the Multi Denominational Ministry of Cannabis and Rastafari and legal under California law. But during his trial, he was not allowed to introduce medical marijuana or religious defenses. He was found guilty of conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute more than 1,000 pot plants and of cultivating more than 1,000 plants, which carries a maximum life sentence. According to California NORML (CANORML) and the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, there were gasps and sobs from Lepp supporters in the courtroom as Patel passed sentence. The sentence was "extreme," Patel conceded, but said her hands were tied by federal law.

In a nod toward the current turmoil over the status of federal prosecutions of medical marijuana providers, Judge Patel said Lepp could apply for a rehearing if the laws changed. Lepp and his attorneys plan to appeal the verdict and the sentence.

Lepp attorney Michael Hall told Patel the sentence was "incredible."

"Incredible is what the law requires," Patel responded, adding that legalizing marijuana appeared to be Lepp's driving passion. "Maybe you want to be a martyr for the cause," she said.

Sentencing Lepp, a 56-year-old veteran in ill health, to prison is a travesty and a waste, said supporters. "This case sadly illustrates the senselessness of federal marijuana laws," said CANORML's Dale Geiringer. "The last thing this country needs is more medical marijuana prisoners. Hopefully, we can change the law and get Eddy out of jail before he completes his 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 nonviolent people like Eddy, who are clearly of no danger to society."

When I was asked to write this I really had to stop and think. I was reminded of the Jack Nickelson movie A Few Good Men: You can’t handle the truth! Sadly, I believe the truth is, so much of this is a fantasy land, it’s a Mad Hatter ride.

When I first came to prison, about four and a half years ago, I was like a child. All I could do is look around shocked, my eyes full of wonder. I learned one of my first lessons right away. Oftentimes, you should be more afraid of the prison guards than the inmates.

I had one of my ministers, Judi, send a few copies of the book I wrote to a few of the guys I had just met. Several of them received the book, no problem, but one of them was “hotter than fish grease.” See, there is a lot to know about life in prison and it isn’t just from the prisoners end. A couple of the guards wanted a certain fellow off the yard and they tried to use me to do it. I had no idea giving the books away was a problem because they had no value to me. The lieutenant, however, decided they did and wanted me to say this fellow had demanded (extorted) the book.

I said no and stuck to the truth. So, the lieutenant sent us both to the Special Housing Unit (SHU aka “shoe”) which is more commonly know to us inmates as “the hole.” The hole is solitary confinement. I spent eight days in there, lost my phone privileges for four months and was moved to a new bed afterwards for another six weeks.

Lesson learned. You must always worry about you and no one else, to let up for a second is to place your safety, your body, sometimes your life in danger. There is no safe place here, not even the HOLE.

I have seen men beat down and worked over by overly exuberant guards. I have also seen guards go out of their way to stop violence. In the Low Security Prisons and at the Federal Prison Camps, which are the two lowest levels of the system, it’s not so bad, there are some risks and politics involved. However, at the Medium Security prisons, the High Security and the Maximum Security there are stabbings, beat downs and deaths on a regular basis.

I have lost about six or seven friends since I have been in prison— all to health related problems. The healthcare is not good here, and with budget cuts things are getting worse. We have one old guy who falls out once or twice a week. A couple weeks back he fell and split his head wide open. There should be a hospital where he can get the care an attention he needs. I have seen this exact same situation so many times it’s not funny.

The average cost is around $35,000 a year to house an inmate, the number is more like $70,000 for those of us over the age 55. How long can the public afford to keep us in here? Over 60% of us are nonviolent first-time offenders. We are sentenced to an average of 10-15 years apiece.

I pray at some point someone will see the high cost and the waste and the unfair injustice of a war that can’t be won. In all history, not once has government ever been able to impose any sort of prohibition that has worked. Look at the Romans and Christ! There are many more examples including our own government’s war against booze. You would have thought they [the government] would have learned by now you cannot regulate human behavior.

“You would have thought they [the government] would have learned by now you cannot regulate human behavior.”

Each of us has been granted the God-given and Constitutionally guaranteed rights to make ourselves happy as long as we RESPECT ALL and HURT NONE. As long as our actions don’t create a victim, it is legal under the Constitution. The Constitution states clearly no victim, no jail-able crime. This, as so many of our rights have been swept aside by those we have elected to serve and protect.

Those very same few who have chosen to screw and prosecute us in what is again, an unwinnable war, against the minorities and the poor. For as we all know and have seen time after time– if your daddy is rich and/or you are famous you skate right out of it. Just look at the stars who’s actions should have them in jail but due to fame and fortune they stay free time after time.

When I was a young man I fought in Vietnam, we were told if we went there to fight, we would save the world and protect freedom worldwide. Forty years later the world has even more wars and bloodshed than ever before. Our freedoms do come at a cost, but giving our own freedoms up shouldn’t be one of them.

As a famous man once said, “If we are willing to give up our rights for security we will have neither.”

I for one am thankful for the rights that as a young man I was willing to die for, I just wish we still had them. So we should all look long and hard at what we are letting Washington D.C. do to us. They strip more freedoms each day. If we are to remain the greatest country in the world we must remember each and every second; the only thing that makes us the greatest nation in the world is the Constitution and the rights it gives us. Without them we are no better than any third world country.


Write to Eddy, he'd very much like to hear from you.

Charles Edward “Eddy” Lepp



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