Raich’s Reach

August 18, 2004

Dean Kuipers, Los Angeles City Beat

December’s landmark Ninth Circuit ruling, Raich v. Ashcroft, continues to unravel years of federal convictions, as another medical marijuana patient walks free pending a new appeal of his case. Bryan Epis, 37, the first medical marijuana patient convicted by the feds after the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, was released from federal prison in Long Beach on Monday, August 9, after serving more than two years of a 10-year sentence.

“It’s a remarkably interesting situation: Bryan has been released pending the Supreme Court’s decision on Raich – which the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear in their next session,” said William Dolphin, communications director with medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. “The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals essentially said that if Raich is upheld, then the court must reconsider his conviction.”

Angel Raich is an Oakland County resident suffering from a brain tumor and multiple, documented conditions, who is the mother of two teens and uses marijuana to treat pain and wasting syndrome. Together with Diane Monson, who suffers from chronic back spasms, Raich and two caregivers sued U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and then-DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson for an injunction against federal prosecution. In December, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Raich that the government had overstepped its constitutional authorities in raiding state medical marijuana patients whose activities did not constitute interstate commerce.

The Bush administration appealed the ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the case by June 2005. In the meantime, federal cases against four pot dispensaries have been suspended until the ruling is reached, and many other individuals have been released pending appeal. Raich essentially established a medical defense for Prop. 215 adherents, which had been previously impossible under federal law.

Epis had been growing marijuana as a sanctioned caregiver at his home in Chico, California, when he was raided by Sheriff’s deputies and turned over to the feds in June 1997. His jury was prevented from receiving any information about the legality of his crop, or about Prop. 215, and he was convicted as a drug dealer and sentenced to 10 years. His daughter, Ashley, now 11, became the face of a statewide billboard campaign that featured her holding a sign that read: “My dad is not a criminal.” The two had a tearful reunion on the steps of federal building in Sacramento on Monday. “This is all very good news,” said Dolphin. “Now let’s just hope it sticks.”

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