Eddy Lepp Busted by DEA
by Fred Gardner
Lepptomania, n. 1. Extreme stubbornness in the belief that state law is sovereign over federal law with respect to medical marijuana. 2. (obsolete) Intransigence associated with enlarged gonads.
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On the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 18, word started ricocheting around that Eddy Lepp was being busted by DEA agents at his Upper Lake spread. Thus ended a common topic of speculation in medical mj circles: "Why doesn't Eddy Lepp get busted?" Eddy was growing thousands of plants — more than 32,000, according to the confiscators — with no effort at concealment. "It looked like a Christmas tree lot across Highway 20 from his home," according to journalist Pat McCartney, who had visited Eddy 11 days before the bust.
Charles Eddy Lepp is a 53-year old Vietnam vet who has had post-traumatic stress, chronic back pain, skin cancer, degenerative arthritis and coronary bypass surgery. His clinical lepptomania onset when California voters legalized marijuana for medical use in 1996. The next summer Lepp was arrested by Lake County narcs for growing 51 plants in his yard. He said he was growing for himself and two other qualified patients, and that he intended to donate the surplus to the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. A Lake County jury acquitted him.
"The reason they couldn't convict me was that they looked at me and saw themselves, their mother, their brother, their sister," Lepp said at the time. "I told them, 'I've done nothing wrong. I'm like you.' I'm a white middle class goddamn war hero, military intelligence. I have letters of support from the V.A., with combat duty in Vietnam in 1972. Ninety percent of what's wrong with me can be traced to my service years.
"I need marijuana. When I take pain pills — I'd have to take hundreds a month — it tears me up. I get bad when I drink alcohol. On weed, I've never met anyone who doesn't like me."
Lepp was permitted to grow in relative peace for a few years; then in August, 2002 Lake County narcs called in the DEA to raid him. They confiscated 266 plants but declined to file charges — re-enforcing Lepp's view that the law was really on his side. (Lepp is suing the DEA for return of property and $67 million in damages.)
Lepp's confidence that state law prevails was re-enforced further in March 2003 when a Superior Court judge ordered the California Highway Patrol to return marijuana seized from Lepp during a traffic stop. The CHP claimed that to hand over the controlled substance would violate federal law. Lepp, representing himself, had made a state's rights argument. (He's suing the CHP, too.)
The clincher for Lepp came in October 2003 when the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in U.S. v. Raich and Monson that the federal government had no jurisdiction in cases not involving interstate commerce, i.e., when marijuana is grown in California for consumption by California patients. Lepp figured the Raich ruling (which the Bush Administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn) entitled him to grow for as many patients as he could get to designate him as their caregiver. He formed a non-profit — Eddy's Medicinal Gardens and Multi-Denominational Chapel of Cannabis and Rastafari — and began signing up patients.
"He recruited qualified patients from across the state," according to McCartney, "holding seminars at which he told them, 'Let me take the risk for you.' He said his goal was to lower the price of medical marijuana. Payment of $500 per plant, an estimated $30 an ounce, was due by Sept. 1. Lepp gathered 2,000 recommendations in all."
The DEA arrived at Lepp's house a little after 7am, Aug. 18. Lepp says he saw the convoy of SUVs coming down his driveway and had time to awaken everyone in the house and warn them to put their hands up and be cooperative. When he opened the front door and asked to see a warrant the lead agent slapped him in the face, knocking his cigarette out of his mouth. It was payback, Lepp thinks, for his having "ordered this gentleman off my property" a few days earlier. About a dozen federal narcs, dressed in black with guns drawn, stormed in to search the place and arrest everyone. Lepp says the warrant was totally blank except for his name and a judge's signature. He questions its legality.
The DEA squad was accompanied by another dozen or so Lake County and state Bureau of Narcotics officers. They chose not to hassle about 15 people on the property whom Lepp described as "Hispanic and Asian field workers and construction crew members." Lepp and 12 members of his "house crew" were taken to the Lake County jail. The house-crew members were held for a few hours and released after signing a document stating that they'd been "detained for public intoxication." Lepp was held for about 20 hours, then transported to the federal building in San Francisco where attorney Dennis Roberts promptly negotiated his release. Lepp agreed to put up all or part of his 40-acre ranch, which has been split into several parcels. The bail details will be worked out at a hearing Aug. 26. Lepp faces charges of cultivation and maintaining a residence for the manufacture of a controlled substance. A gun charge may be added, he says, "because they found a little .32."
Lepp thinks he can beat the rap on at least three grounds: violation of the Raich ruling, an illegal search warrant, and Congress's failure to formally adopt the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (an original theory he has been researching).
Lepp was able to make it up to Seattle in time for the start of the Hempfest on Saturday morning, Aug. 21. He arrived in a green stretch limousine, leading a convoy of loyal crew members. Eddy's Medicinal Gardens had rented a large booth, and neither the rainclouds above nor the events of the past week could stop the crew from publicizing their operation. Pat McCartney says he will forever cherish the memory of Eddy, in his long green robe, telling an interviewer, "I'm not in trouble with the feds, they're in trouble with me."
How Eddy Got Involved
As told by Eddy after his 2002 bust to Preston Peet: "I first started using marijuana over in Vietnam. I won't go into details, but they had some amazing shit over there. Smoking allowed me to keep myself well. Later on, I would kind of smoke it socially but I was drinking heavily for years. Then in about 1987 or 1988 my Dad got cancer. He underwent 14 major operations in about 14 months. After getting out of the hospital, he lived about another year before he died. During that year, he was living on Ensure, the protein drink. The only way I could get him to drink the stuff was to roll up a big ol' fatty and shove it in his tracheotomy tube. One of my fondest memories of my father is him walking around with a big fatty I rolled stuck in his trach tube choking down his Ensures. That's when I first got involved with it in a medical aspect.
"My daughter was a caretaker for a young gentleman who got AIDS back in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic when it was truly a terrible thing and they had no control over it at all. Through him, I was introduced to Dennis Peron. A while later Dennis came up with this wild, hare-brained idea which ended up being Proposition 215. When they started gathering signatures, I got involved and helped gather signatures. My wife Linda and I gathered almost 500 signatures ourselves to help get it on the ballot. Dennis and I wound up being pretty good friends because we're both Vietnam vets. After Prop. 215 passed, it wasn't long before I got arrested."
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We're legal, let's act it.
explaining his attitude after Prop 215 passed.
(He would subsequently serve three years in federal prison for cultivation.)