A federal judge in San Francisco today sentenced a Lake County man to 10 years in prison for growing more than 1,000 marijuana plants, saying the marijuana activist appeared to "want to be a martyr for the cause."
The sentence for Charles "Eddy" Lepp, 56, was the mandatory minimum under federal law for growing more than 1,000 plants. The conviction stems from a 2004 raid, where feds seized about 25,000 plants, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports.
U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel said Lepp didn't qualify for a so-called "safety valve" exception with a lesser sentence because he testified at his trial last fall that he was a proud leader of others who grew marijuana on his land.
Patel told Lepp, "I think Mr. Lepp is very proud of what he's been doing. The problem is that now unfortunately, Mr. Lepp, it's caught up with you."
"Maybe you want to be martyr for the cause," Patel said. "That will be your lot."
The U.S. law doesn't allow the safety-valve exception for people who, "have operated a continuing criminal enterprise."
Patel said she thought the length of the sentence was excessive, but said it would be up to Congress to change the law.
A letter on Lepp's Web site urged his supporters to appeal to the judge and ask for leniency in sentencing for what they describe as, "provid[ing] land and assistance to his flock for the cultivation of the sacred herb."
Lepp, a disabled Vietnam veteran who says he is now a Rastafarian minister, was convicted in Patel's court in September of conspiring to grow and growing more than 1,000 plants on 23 acres he owns adjacent to state Highway 20 in Upper Lake.
Lepp had contended the marijuana was grown for medical use under California's compassionate use law and for spiritual practice in his Rastafarian religion.
But he was not allowed to make either argument at his trial. U.S. drug laws don't allow state medical marijuana laws to be used as a defense in federal prosecutions.
During his, Lepp told the judge, "I've done all I can to comply with the laws and rules of the state in which I reside." He said he informed local authorities in 2004 that his land would be used to enable patients who didn't own land to grow marijuana for medical purposes."
Prosecutor David Hall told the judge, "I've never seen a man work harder to get time in prison than Mr. Lepp has."
Lepp's attorney, Michael Hinckley, said outside of court that the sentence was "tragic" and said he will appeal.
The small courtroom at the Federal Building was crowded with more than 50 supporters of Lepp, some of whom began to cry silently when the sentence was pronounced.
Prosecutors said in a sentencing brief that both sides stipulated at the trial that number of plants was 15,724 and that Lepp testified that the number was 32,000.
Lepp's farm was raided by federal drug agents on Aug. 18, 2004, after the Lake County Sheriff's Department received reports that a large amount of marijuana could be seen growing near the highway. He was indicted later in 2004.
Patel gave Lepp until July 6 to surrender voluntarily to begin serving his sentence