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. He must report to federal authorities by July 6.
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."