Bryan Epis, the first California medical marijuana provider to be prosecuted and convicted for growing marijuana for patients, was sent back to federal prison Monday by a federal judge in Sacramento. Epis had served two years of his sentence before he was released in 2004 by an order of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
But based on business plans Epis had sketched out to expand on his garden and prosecutors' allegations he was only in it for the money, a jury in Sacramento found him guilty in July 2002 of growing more than 100 plants and conspiracy to grow more than 1,000 plants. He received a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, in part because his house was within 1,000 feet of a local high school.
Epis served two years in federal prison before winning a ruling from the 9th Circuit that he should be freed pending the resolution of the landmark Raich v. Gonzalez case. Unfortunately for Epis, the US Supreme Court ruled in that case that federal drug laws trump state medical marijuana laws.
Epis was resentenced to 10 years in 2007, but had been free on $500,000 bail pending appeal. But the 9th Circuit decided against him in August, the US Supreme Court declined to review that ruling, and the end came Monday.
Federal prosecutor Samuel Wong, who has been Epis' bête noir since the beginning of the case, didn't let up Monday. He continued to insist that the case had nothing to do with medical marijuana. "As the court knows, this is not a medical marijuana case. That term doesn't ever apply to cases of this scope," Wong charged. "Mr. Bryan Epis grew and distributed large amounts of marijuana even before the law changed in California," he added, although Epis was never charged with that.
Attorney John Balazs, who represented Epis, asked that he be given a surrender date so that he could explore other means of overturning the conviction and sentence. But US District Court Judge Frank Damrell was having none of it. "It's over, Mr. Epis."
Epis was then taken to a holding cell as his girlfriend and daughter wept. If nothing happens to change things, he won't be free again until around 2017.
Last year, the US Justice Department made it department policy not to persecute medical marijuana providers in compliance with state law. But it has yet to stop the prosecutions of medical marijuana providers arrested before then or move to provide relief for those imprisoned after being convicted under Clinton and Bush-era policies.