DEA raids Lepp's pot farm

August 18, 2004

John Lindblom , Lake County Record-Bee

UPPER LAKE -- For Eddy Lepp, who claims to have the largest acreage of legally grown marijuana in the country, it was a bitter harvest Wednesday as Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers, assisted by Lake County Sheriff's deputies, destroyed 40 acres of plants and arrested him.

Richard Meyer, a special agent and public information officer for the DEA's San Francisco office, placed the value of marijuana removed from Lepp's property, conservatively, at $80 million.

Lepp will be formally charged probably for possession with intent to distribute before a U.S. Magistrate Court in San Francisco today.

"He will have to be here in San Francisco for an initial appearance," said Meyer. "The judge will read the charges and constitutional rights to Mr. Lepp."

Although Lepp's circumstances Wednesday prevented him from speaking to the media, the arrest is another chapter in a long-running feud he has had with the DEA, which he is attempting to sue out of existence.

In an unpublished interview with the Record-Bee earlier this year, Lepp said he is seeking $67 million from the DEA for taking 1,700 kilos of ostensibly legal marijuana plants off his property two years ago.

The DEA warrant used Wednesday to arrest Lepp and destroy a marijuana crop that is easily visible from Highway 20, Meyer asserted, supersedes California statutes which Lepp believes give him the right to legally grow medical marijuana.

But Meyer said it is possible that several federal charges can be leveled against Lepp while none are filed by the state. And Chief Sheriff's Deputy Russ Perdock said that to the best of his knowledge there are no state charges against Lepp.

No matter, said Meyer.

"According to the United Constitution there is a supremacy clause, which says that in case of conflict federal law precedes state law," he said and added, "According to federal law, there is no such thing as medical marijuana. Marijuana is a dangerous drug that the United States Congress has classified as a Schedule One substance. A Schedule One substance doesn't have any accepted medical use in the United States and a high potential for abuse."

Virtually all of California's medical marijuana proponents object to this type of rhetoric by the DEA.

"We've got mixed signals here," said William Dolphin, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, which is the largest national organization supporting medical marijuana. "The federal courts are saying that people who are allowed marijuana legally by the state of California should be left alone by the federal government, and yet the DEA continues to insist that there is no such thing as medical marijuana.

" ... Even when federal courts have said otherwise," Dolphin added, citing two U.S. appeals court rulings in support of medical marijuana the most recent the appeals court's reversal of a 10-year trafficking sentence for Brian Epis of Chico.

Meyer said 12 other people were arrested on Wednesday for marijuana-related offenses who will be tried in state courts, but did not elaborate. "We don't have names or places, but they will be charged by state authority, whereas Mr. Lepp is being charged by federal authority," Meyer said.

The DEA formula for determining the weight of marijuana is one pound per plant and $4,000 per pound.

"We'll tally up the plants seized (on Lepp's property). Right now the tally is 20,000 plants," Meyer said.

A man who does not shrink from battles with law enforcement officials and doggedly defends his rights and those of others on marijuana issues, Lepp's arrest was certain to send reverberations through the local and medical marijuana communities.

Lepp has claimed that he and his wife Linda have "been personally responsible for helping 4,000 people" who used marijuana for numerous medical reasons.

More recently, Lepp began working closely with Dr. Milan Hopkins, who dispenses medical marijuana from his office in Upper Lake.

Lepp maintains he has never sold marijuana. In the interview earlier this year, he described how, for a $500 contribution to his ministry, he will grow up to six plants for a patient who is disabled and has a valid doctor's recommendation for marijuana.

"The donation covers the cost of labor, fertilizer, water and security, which is intense at the end of the growing season," he told a Record-Bee reporter. "There is never a charge for the plant or the product. We do not sell marijuana. We never have, we never will."

The nature of his business being what it is, Lepp has been at odds with the law almost constantly. In addition to a suit he filed against the U.S. Attorney General and the DEA for the earlier bust, he has a case against Lake County, which he said was in appeal. He maintains an up-to-date knowledge of state and federal laws governing marijuana and in the interview with the Record-Bee, said:

"What we're doing is demanding that (the DEA) bring forth legislative jurisdiction in other words the authority under which they enforced federal law inside the sovereign republic of California.

"They can't do that, they do not have that power. The federal government does not have the authority to enforce federal law inside any of the sovereign states."

Lepp also claimed that in their earlier seizure of marijuana on his property the DEA acted on laws that either didn't exist or hadn't been acted on.

"The immediate closure of the DEA that's what we ask for," Lepp said in the earlier interview. "They are an illegal operation and are operating under laws that do not exist."

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