Saturday, August 30, 2008

Eddy Lepp Gets A Speedy Trial

Eddy Lepp Gets A Speedy Trial
Written by Vanessa Nelson
Thursday, August 28 2008

Eddy Lepp photo by Vanessa NelsonSAN FRANCISCO -- In an unanticipated turn of events, the bust of the world’s largest medical marijuana grow has developed into one of the shortest trials in federal court.

Opening arguments in the United States v. Charles “Eddy” Lepp were delivered yesterday morning to a freshly assembled jury. The judge gave her own speech as well, outlining the procedures in the trial, the elements of the charges, and various reflections on the importance of jury service. The government then proceeded to call all of its witnesses and present all of its exhibits. And when it was finally done, it was almost time for lunch.
This approach is a novel one for the government. The prosecution in federal medical marijuana trials is typically vigorous, with witness testimony that spans a full week or more. With this case, however, it’s as though someone has suddenly pushed the turbo button.

The years of pre-trial legal wrangling weren’t exactly fast, but they did have plenty of twists and turns. For instance, Lepp came an inch shy of a key victory when the judge threw out the search warrant that was used against him in August 2004. The bubble burst on that hope, however, when the prosecutor successfully argued that law enforcement agents didn’t need a valid warrant to seize tens of thousands of plants from Lepp’s field. Deciding that issue alone took over a year and the testimony of several witnesses, those watching the case were expecting the same pace for the trial. Instead, the proceedings have whizzed by in a surreal blur.

According to the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hall, the reason for the acceleration is that the defense has stipulated two crucial facts: that the seized plants were marijuana and that they were grown on land owned by Lepp. Such stipulations remove the need for some witnesses, like those who testify about chains of evidence and laboratory test results. However, these omissions alone do not explain the brevity and the bareness of the government’s case. “We’ve boiled it down,” Hall explained to the jury during his opening statement. Indeed they have…and it seems that not much is left.

Hall’s case has focused almost entirely on the events of a single afternoon – August 9th, 2004 – when three local sheriffs took an impromptu joyride through Lepp’s field in the northern California town of Upper Lake. The sheriffs supposedly made the trip in order to observe the large marijuana crop that was said to be growing alongside Highway 20, but it ended up being much more than a quick drive. Things began to go awry when the little squad aroused the suspicions of onlookers, and it ended with the sheriffs claiming they were chased down and assaulted by people from Lepp’s property.

By all appearances, the sheriffs were mistaken for trespassers…and, as Hall described the incident, it was easy to understand why. After all, the sheriffs did enter Lepp’s property without permission, while out of uniform and riding in an unmarked truck. They proceeded to drive slowly down a private dirt road that ran along the perimeter of the field, visually appraising the crops as they went. They soon attracted shouted inquiries from people in the field, but the sheriffs simply ignored the questions put to them about who they were and why they were there. Two men in a sedan then started following them along the dirt road, eventually getting the truck to stop by passing it and then hitting their brakes. The sheriffs responded by leaping out of the truck with guns drawn, shouting, “Lake County Sheriff’s Department!” and ordering the sedan’s occupants down to the ground.

These two men were detained and promptly searched, and the examination turned up $1500 on the one named Dallas Nelson. According to Hall’s account, the wad of cash was causing Nelson’s pants to bulge out, but he told the sheriffs the money was for his monthly living expenses and not from marijuana. Hall didn’t suggest anything to contest this claim, nor did he present any witnesses who did so. Since the government is supposed to be proving a charge of conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute, it looked to be something of a deficiency.

The missing parts of the government’s case became more and more conspicuous as the evidence was presented. The witness list consisted only of the three sheriffs who took the ill-fated ride through the field, and they all told similar versions of the events Hall described in his opening statement. These narratives even included repeated accounts of Lepp’s admission that the garden consisted of 18,000 plants for 2400 patients. In one scenario, such a statement might work against Lepp as a confession to distribution. However, it could also work in his favor as a covert, de facto defense to his charges. Either way, the government’s lackadaisical showing leaves the defense with plenty of room to maneuver.

Other than the blocked attempt to get a witness to estimate the monetary worth of the crop, the only other part of the government’s case that hinted at distribution was a snippet of conversation between Lepp and one of the sheriffs. It occurred after, as Hall put it, Lepp drove down from his house “almost like riding in on a white horse” to mediate the confrontation in his field.

Upon arriving at the scene, Lepp was greeted by Sergeant David Garzoli. The two men knew each other from prior association, and this opened the door for seemingly-casual smalltalk. Noticing renovations being made to Lepp’s house, Garzoli commented, “Business must be good, Eddy.”

The response that followed was repeated so frequently in pre-trial hearings that it coined a catch-phrase for the trial long before it ever got underway. “I’m rolling in it, Dave,” was Lepp’s much-quoted reply.

The defendant confirms the statement, but he claims that he made gestures suggestive of rolling a joint as he uttered the phrase. None of the government’s three witnesses mentioned this detail, however. Instead, the sheriffs chose to interpret the comment as Garzoli suggested, to mean that Lepp was “rolling in dough, rolling in money.”

When David Perry took the stand yesterday, he described being particularly dismayed at the idea that Lepp cold be profiting from marijuana sales. Perry, a 20-year employee of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, was along for the ride to Lepp’s field on August 9th purely for the novelty of it. “Frankly, I had never seen a garden that large, and I was curious,” he testified about his reason for making the trip.

Perry recalled the claim about the marijuana being for 2400 patients, but reported becoming more cynical when he heard Lepp’s now-notorious comment to Garzoli. “I got the feeling he was a benevolent caregiver,” Perry said about Lepp. “Then, he seemed enthused about the money he was making.”

Defense Attorney Michael Hinckley photo by Vanessa NelsonHowever suggestive it may be, the “rolling in it” quote is ultimately an ambiguous line. It’s a shaky place for the government to hang its hat with regard to the distribution elements of the charges, and it does nothing to counter Lepp’s trial strategy. According to the opening statement made by defense attorney Michael Hinckley yesterday, Lepp should be acquitted of the charges against him because he was a step removed from the activities that took place on his property.

Lepp can’t be guilty of manufacturing marijuana or possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute, the defense’s theory argues, because he didn’t cultivate and he didn’t possess. The same concept applies to the second charge, which is conspiracy to distribute or to possess with the intent to distribute. If Lepp never intended to possess the marijuana, the defense posits, then he can’t be guilty of conspiring to do so.

Whether this approach turns out to be masterfully simplistic or blunderingly foolish depends to a large degree on the way that Lepp and his attorneys present their evidence. And, as it appears, the defense will be given wide latitude in the department of spin and rhetoric. For example, talk of medical marijuana in front of a federal jury often earns a defense attorney the stern admonishment that state laws are not to be mentioned in federal court. Hinckley’s opening statement, however, went without objection from the government as he wove an emotionally-rich story about his client’s experiences with the medical and sacramental marijuana.

As his starter, the defense attorney suggested that our adversarial system of justice is responsible for some tricky illusions. He compared it to asking a person to put his hand up in front of his face and then answer the question, “Do you see a hand?” While the obvious answer seems to be yes, Hinckley acknowledged, the real answer is that only half of a hand is seen…that is, until the hand is turned over to the other side. And, to bring the analogy all the way home, Hinckley clarified that when the defense presents its evidence, it will be like turning the hand over to the other side.

What the jurors will see on the other side, the defense attorney suggested, is a version of Eddy Lepp that’s different from the one depicted by the government. Hinckley promised to present a fully-disabled Vietnam veteran whose demons were so vicious that they couldn’t be helped by anything except religion. And the faith that helped his client, he revealed, was the Christian-based Caribbean religion of the Rastafarians. “The most well-known tenant of it is the sacramental use of marijuana,” Hinckley announced.

As the defense attorney told it, Lepp’s discoveries about medical marijuana overlapped his enlightenment about the spiritual uses of marijuana. “It was the only thing that brought solace to his father, who was dying of cancer,” Hinckley said. Lepp was also a keen observer of the way marijuana helped his wife Linda during her decade-long struggle with cancer, aiding her in ways that no other medicine could. After describing this to the jury, Hinckley noted Linda’s recent death with a tone of sorrow. From back at the defense table, Lepp drew a noticeably deep, loud breath in reaction to this topic.

Defense Attorney Michael Hinckley with Eddie Lepp photo by Vanessa Nelson

Going forward with his opening statement, Hinckley spoke at length about the church Lepp started. Earlier, the prosecutor had presented a gigantic blow-up of a photo of Lepp’s home, calling the exhibit a depiction of the cultivation site. Hinckley quickly approached the easel where it sat and began describing the poster-sized enlargement as a picture of the church. “They also opened their doors to drug addicts and the homeless,” Hinckley said of the ministry, then attempted again to weave the strands of medical and spiritual marijuana use. “Many of them were medical marijuana users as well,” he said of the church members.

The parishioners could grow their own sacrament, Hinckley continued, but the one thing they desperately needed was land. As the attorney told it, Lepp donated to the church by allowing its members to grow their sacrament on land he owned across the highway from his house. “The evidence will show it wasn’t Eddy’s marijuana, and he never possessed it,” Hinckley told the jury confidently, concluding his opening statement.

This was just a preview of Lepp’s disarmingly minimalist legal strategy, which will be brought to fulfillment later today. With the defendant himself on schedule to testify, the stakes are remarkably high. It will be Lepp’s one and only opportunity to convey himself emotionally to the jurors, and in a trial that has fed on speed and simplicity, such a connection could make all the difference in the world.


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Sunday, August 24, 2008


Pubdate: Mon, 18 Aug 2008 Source: Ukiah Daily Journal, The (CA) Copyright: 2008 The Ukiah Website: Referenced: People v. Kelly

Bookmark: Bookmark: Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal) Bookmark: (Opinion)

DECISIONS FORCE NEW LOOK AT MEDICAL MARIJUANA We understand why a local judge struck down the provisions of voter-approved Measure B limiting the number of plants a medical marijuana patient can grow. The California Appeals Court ruled in May that the six mature, 12 immature plant limit and the eight ounce dried marijuana possession limit were unconstitutional because the California Legislature had set the limits by legislation not voter initiative. Measure B's limits were based on the California state law. (The California Supreme Court has now decided to take up the question of the legality of these limits which were rejected a second time in another Appeals Court ruling in July.) Now, medical marijuana growing and possession goes back to the confusing and varied interpretations that existed before the state passed its regulations - regulations that were fervently sought by true medical marijuana patients in order to bring some order and protection to the 1996 initiative that was unfortunately very poorly worded. As of this moment, there are technically no limits on the number of medical marijuana plants a person can grow - but anything they grow has to be strictly for their own personal medical needs. That is the important distinction and one that local marijuana growers need to pay attention to. Unfortunately this ruling may encourage more of the commercial backyard growing we've seen from people who will assume that "no limits" means they can get away with anything. We hope that our Sheriff Tom Allman and District Attorney Meredith Lintott will make it clear in their actions that this local court ruling - and the ruling it stems from in People v. Kelly in the State Court of Appeals - still makes it clear that medical marijuana growing must be for personal medical use - and lacking any regulatory direction, not some conglomerate in San Francisco or dispensary in Ukiah. The courts ruled that the Compassionate Use Act does not limit a medical marijuana patient's growing allowance based on a doctor's recommendation. But it is also clear that those needs must be approved by a doctor and clearly defines "caregiver" as a person "designated by the person exempted under this section who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of that person." We have long argued that the definition of caregiver from the CUA had been twisted out of all proportion and made mockery of the compassion California voters tried to extend to the truly sick and dying. We will see if the California Supreme Court agrees that regulating the CUA by legislation is constitutional. If not, the CUA will likely be scrutinized and perhaps amended by another voter initiative. If that happens, we believe it is time to set constitutional limits on the number of plants a medical marijuana patient can have, and provide a strict definition of caregiver, limiting that to one person, someone who is personally caring for the patient on a regular basis, not someone in Mendocino County growing 100 plants in their name. The Kelly decision - and the local decision based on it - should not be construed as an open door to more pot growing. These decisions should be viewed as restating the limits envisioned on medical marijuana when the voters passed the CUA, limits that have been ignored up and down the state and which have led voters even in this Emerald Triangle, to reject marijuana growing as greedy and dangerous to their communities.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Investigation of Compassionate Caregivers Continues

Investigation of Compassionate Caregivers Continues
The Los Angeles Police Department, the DEA and the IRS continue to investigate Compassionate Caregivers Inc. The company closed its seven dispensaries after the Los Angeles Police Department seized its bank accounts June 6th. "We will not be taking action against medical marijuana facilities unless we can link those facilities to street sales and violent crime or gang activity here in Los Angeles," said LAPD spokesperson Lt. Paul Vernon. "We found some connection between that location and street crime in our city."
"It's absolutely laughable to think that a corporation with seven locations across the state is somehow linked to gangs or violent crime," countered Compassionate Caregiver's Executive Director Sparky Rose.
Rose says the search warrant used by the LAPD to raid the West Hollywood clubs made no mention of gangs or violence. According to Rose, the warrant mentioned only two patients who entered the West Hollywood facility with forged medical cannabis ID cards - and a patient who claimed to have bought more than six mature plants at time from the club which Rose says did not sell mature plants.
Attorney Bruce Margolin who is representing the company's West Hollywood dispensary that was raided by the LAPD on May 13, says the club never received a cease and desist order. Margolin challenges reports that the club was targeted because it sold eight ounces to a pound of cannabis to patients at a time. He notes that SB 420 sets no limits on how much cannabis a dispensary can sell to customers.
According to Margolin, Compassionate Caregivers worked closely with the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the West Hollywood Sheriffs Department which were unhappy when the LAPD strayed out of their jurisdiction to bust the West Hollywood dispensary.
"Each police agency has their own philosophy and idea of what the law is and this is a problem," said Margolin. "We have a very sad situation here where the will of the people seems to be undermined and the law is only as good as the people who enforce it."
Rose says the LAPD exaggerated the amount of cannabis seized from the West Hollywood dispensary by weighing the cannabis together with the acrylic jars it was contained in. He says the 800 pounds of cannabis reportedly seized is off by more than an order of magnitude. "There was less than 50 pounds of dry cannabis on the premesis and then some cuttings in rockwool, some edibles, and some extracts," said Rose. "The killer for us was the tainted sodas which they weighed in the bottles."
"Everybody involved with medical cannabis is confused," said Rose who said he was informed about the seizure of his company's assets when he attempted to make a bank deposit. "It this the [federal] government involved saying 'we want to do this,' or is this the LAPD doing it just because they can."
Rose added that the shut down of the seven dispensaries has forced the lay off of 225 employees who have also lost their health insurance. He says the state must now pay unemployment benefits to those employees. According to Rose, Compassionate Caregivers had a weekly payroll of $170,000. "We were definitely trying to contribute a lot of money to the Oakland economy," said Rose. "We were a for-profit business, but we put the profits into opening new clubs."
Rose confirmed that his profit margin is between 5% and 15% after taxes and the amound of money seized from Compassionate Caregivers is less than 25% of its annual payroll. "While the LAPD might see this as a windfall, the cost will be borne by the California taxpayer while all of our employees draw unemployment and have to flood other social programs as a result of having no COBRA option for healthcare," said Rose. "With one phone call from the LAPD to the West Hollywood Sheriff, all if this could have been's sad."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Three CA Appellate Court Rulings On Prop 215

Three CA Appellate Court Rulings On Prop 215

   Last week saw three significant California Appellate Court rulings

on medical marijuana, most of them favorable to medical marijuana

patients, but one with cautionary implications for "primary



In the first, Counties of San Diego & San Bernardino v San Diego

NORML & Wendy Christakes, the 4th appellate district court upheld the

validity of the SB 420 medical marijuana ID card program and

discounted claims that state enforcement of Prop 215 violated federal

law. While it might be hoped that this would prove the nail in the

coffin to this lame case, San Diego county supervisors have voted to

appeal to the state Supreme Court, where they seem destined to lose

again. SD - NORML



In the second case, People v. Windus, the 2nd appellate district

ruled that a physician's recommendation does not automatically become

invalid if it is not renewed in one year. "Based on our

examination of the CUA (Compassionate Use Act), we see nothing in the

statute that requires a patient to periodically renew a doctor's

recommendation regarding medical marijuana use." Although SB 420

requires that medical marijuana ID card holders renew their

recommendations annually, the Windus ruling found that this does not

restrict the legality of the recommendation under the CUA. Note

that the recommendation in question was issued without any

expiration date, so the decision would not apply to recommendations

where the physician has specified an expiration date. Note too that

the CA medical board recommends that physicians perform at least

annual check-ups to avoid possible malpractice.

In a second finding, the Windus court limited the scope of the

"primary caregiver" defense. In specific, it upheld the lower

court's finding that a primary caregiver must consistently assume

responsibility for the needs of the patient, not merely occasionally

supply him or her with marijuana. "Case law is clear that one who

merely supplies a patient with marijuana has no defense under the

CUA," wrote the court. This interpretation of the law is accepted

by most Cal NORML attorneys, who advise against casual or commercial

providers from relying on the "primary caregiver" defense. Windus ruling text


In the third decision, People v Phomphakdy, the 3rd appellate

district court in Sacto came to a similar conclusion as the recent

4th district Kelly decision, namely that the amount of marijuana

patients may legally possess or cultivate is not legally restricted

by the SB 420 limits: "We hold that the Medical Marijuana Program

Act's numerical limits are an unconstitutional amendment to the

Compassionate Use Act." The court's decision was marginally less

sweeping than Kelly, in that it only invalidated the subsection of SB

420 specifying the limits, H&SC 11362.77(a), not the whole section

11362.77. While Cal NORML agrees with the major thrust of the Kelly

and Phomphakdy decisions, they are apt to be double-edged swords.

While they have helped some defendants who exceeded the SB 420 limits

to avoid convictions, they have also invited prosecutors to take some

defendants to court who would have previously been dismissed

automatically under SB 420 (for example, caregivers found

transporting >1 pound in counties like Humboldt whose limits allow


Phomphakdy ruling text


Newshawk: over 40 thousand medical marijuana news clippings
Pubdate: Wed, 6 Aug 2008
Source: Modesto Bee, The (CA)
Copyright: 2008 The Modesto Bee
Author: Richard T. Estrada
Cited: Police Chief Marty West
Cited: Oakdale City Council
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


OAKDALE -- Fearing the city could become a magnet for medical marijuana dispensaries, and the criminal element the police chief says comes with them, the City Council has voted 4-0 to ban the businesses.

Police Chief Marty West said Oakdale joins Modesto, Riverbank, Ceres and Turlock in banning dispensaries.

The city hasn't received a request to open a dispensary, West noted. It would only be a matter of time before a request arrived, he said, because of the bans in neighboring cities.

West said dispensaries would damage Oakdale's quality of life by inviting criminals, vagrants and other bad elements into the city in hopes of selling, buying or in some other way getting a piece of the marijuana business.

He cited reams of reports from law enforcement across the state detailing assaults, robberies and home invasions, all of which he attributed to the presence of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Assaults and robberies also occur near bars and liquor stores, but West added that dispensing marijuana violates federal law. State law allows residents with medical marijuana cards to buy and consume it, but West said federal law trumps state law.

While a hot topic in some cities, the issue virtually went without notice in Oakdale. No one spoke for or against the proposal during Monday's public hearing.

The council also agreed to pay $20,364 to McPhee Masonry of Oakdale to fix a retaining wall on a closed stretch of J Street. McPhee built the wall during the J Street extension and the city accepted it in 2006, but now it's tilting and could topple.

A lack of attentiveness is being blamed for the extent of the damage. Because the extension never has opened, the city said, there was no daily observation of the wall, hence no one to notice the lean.

The extension, behind Oak Valley Hospital, was finished in October 2006. Oak Valley asked that the road stay closed so it could use the area to store construction material, City Manager Steve Hallam said, and has returned every six months to ask the council to keep it closed. The council has OK'd each request.

If open, the J Street extension would provide a shorter route to the hospital, high school and downtown businesses for residents in the Bridle Ridge subdivision, among other benefits.

There is no record of the city inspecting it from October 2006 to November 2007 -- McPhee's one-year warranty lapsed in October 2007 -- when a contractor working for the hospital told the city that the wall was leaning.

The city never measured the wall's original height and lean, so it didn't know if the lean was missed in the original inspection or if this was a new problem.

Poor drainage is a possible culprit. As water collected behind the wall, instead of being carried away in a ditch, the soil swelled. That could have caused the wall to lean, the city theorized.

Cindy McCain and a MARIJUANA dealer? SAFER's Blog Donate to SAFER Help the Cause

What is the difference between potential future First Lady
Cindy McCain and a MARIJUANA dealer?
Cindy deals a more harmful drug: ALCOHOL

That's right, Cindy McCain -- wife of presumptive presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) -- is an alcohol dealer. As the the chairperson and majority shareholder of Hensley & Co., one of the nation's largest distributors of Anheuser-Busch beer, she made a fortune dealing more than 23 million cases of beer last year.

Whereas selling millions of dollars worth of alcohol could land Cindy in the White House, selling just a few hundred or thousand dollars worth of marijuana continues to land countless Americans in the big house (prison, that is). This is despite the fact that marijuana is FAR less harmful than alcohol both to the user and to society.

"Cindy McCain: Drug Dealer" is a provocative new campaign designed to highlight this hypocrisy and spread the message that marijuana is safer than alcohol and should be treated that way.

CLICK HERE to check it out or go to:

Featured on the site is a short yet hilarious Web ad called "Drug-Deal-Er," which is a play on the old Budweiser frogs commercials. (A huge thanks goes out Paul Saurini for helping us produce this great video.) Also on the site is information on Cindy McCain's lucrative drug dealing empire, the facts about marijuana compared to alcohol, and PDFs of the Cindy "WANTED" poster that we would love to see posted everywhere!
Word of the campaign has already traveled quickly, spreading from the blogosphere (such as this piece on The Raw Story) to the mainstream media (such as this story in today's Denver Post). We expect it will continue to grow, especially after our press conference today in front of the Hensley Cartel's Headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona!

WE NEED YOUR HELP to spread it further!

Please visit today and:

- Sign the on-line petition and forward it to all of your friends, family, and coworkers.

- Download and print Cindy "WANTED" posters to hang around your
community, in your office, or simply on your refrigerator. We need to get these up EVERYWHERE!

- Watch SAFER's original "Drug-Deal-Er" video and share it with everyone you can.

Contact us to find out how you can do more to spread the word in your area and/or on the Web!

- Make a donation to help us buy more ads and reach a larger national audience.
Cindy "WANTED" poster ads are currently featured on
some major national blogs and on more than a dozen of the most popular statewide political blogs around the country (click HERE for an example). We only had enough in our budget to buy ads for one week, though, and we need your help to keep them (and new ones) up and running.

This is NOT an attack on Cindy McCain or alcohol!

SAFER certainly realizes the "Cindy McCain: Drug Dealer" campaign will raise some eyebrows. After all, that's the point. But we trust you -- and the public in general -- will understand that this is NOT a personal attack on Cindy McCain and it is certainly not a partisan thing (as you may recall, SAFER also labeled Denver's Democratic brewpub-owning mayor John Hickenlooper a "Drug Dealer").

Cindy is proud of her job and her industry, and alcohol use and sales are widely accepted in this country. Why is highlighting them an "attack" or negative in any way? In fact, we hope to get the public and the media thinking about just why it seems so crazy to call someone who sells alcohol a "drug dealer," whereas there seems to be no problem using the term for those who sell marijuana.

We should also point out that SAFER is NOT attacking alcohol. As we've said time and time again, we respect the right of adults to use alcohol responsibly. We are simply standing up for the millions of Americans our government punishes and considers criminals just because they make the SAFER choice to use marijuana for relaxation and recreation.

PLEASE FORWARD this message widely!