|Eddy Lepp walked his last mile to federal prison as a free man.
A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the conviction and 10-year prison sentence of Charles “Eddy” Lepp, who grew 32,000 marijuana plants for patients and fellow Rastafarians on his land in Lake County, California.
The federal judge who sent Lepp to prison in 2009 criticized the federal law which required a 10-year prison term for growing more than 1,000 cannabis plants, reports Bob Egelko at the San Francisco Chronicle
. But U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of San Francisco said she had no choice under the law, and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
“The statutory minimum sentence is not cruel and unusual punishment,” the three-judge panel ruled.
Federal agents arrested Rev. Lepp in 2004 after finding the marijuana plants near his home in Upper Lake, lost of them in clear view of Highway 20.
Lepp said the plants were for patients who had a right to use marijuana with their doctors’ authorization under California law. He also said he was a Rastafarian minister, for whom ganja is a sacrament, and that he was growing the plants for 2,500 members of his church who were sharecroppers.
Federal law prohibits marijuana for any purpose, even in states which have legalized its medicinal use. The appeals court upheld Patel’s refusal to allow Lepp to use his religion as a defense to the charges, ruling his prosecution was due to the government’s “compelling interest in preventing diversion of sacramental marijuana to non-religious users.”
Lepp’s attorney, Michael Hinckley, had argued that the 10-year sentence was grossly disproportionate to the “crimes.” Hinckley said he was disappointed by Wednesday’s ruling.
“The thought of him spending 10 years in prison, in circumstances like these, is tragic,” Hinckley said.