Ninth Circuit Court Affirms Eddy Lepp Conviction

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals - SealThe Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has affirmed the 2008 conviction of marijuana advocate and Cannabis Reverend Charles Edward “Eddy” Lepp.

Lepp was convicted in 2008 of  conspiracy after federal agents discovered 32,000 Cannabis plants on his Lake County property. His 10-year prison term began in 2009.

In a memorandum, Circuit Court Judges Silverman and Graber, and District Court Judge Lynn said that Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the District Court did not err when she denied Lepp’s motion to seek a defense under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).

The Court said that extant Marijuana  possession and manufacturing laws were the “least restrictive means” of preventing Lepp from distributing “sacramental marijuana” to non-religious users:

Applying the criminal laws prohibiting possession and manufacture of marijuana to Lepp is the least restrictive means of furthering the government’s compelling interest in preventing diversion of sacramental marijuana to non-religious users. C.f. United States v. Bauer, 84 F.3d 1549, 1559 (9th Cir. 1996) (declining to exclude the possibility that “the government may show that the least restrictive means of preventing the sale and distribution of marijuana is the universal enforcement of the marijuana laws”); contra Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418, 433 (2006). (source)

Lepp sought a hearing under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act where he hoped to establish that his church contained some 2500 members, and that he was personally sincere in his religious practice as a “Marijuana Minister”.

The Court said the District Court had not abused its discretion when it denied Lepp an evidentiary hearing on his RFRA Motion because the District Court had previously stated that the size of Lepp’s church would not effect its ruling.

The Court also cited the “open fields and plain view doctrines”, which gave the District Court authority to admit evidence seized during a raid on Lepp’s rural property in 2004. Likewise, the Court found the District Court did not err when it allowed evidence obtained during a 2005 “sting” in which federal agents said they purchased one pound of marijuana from Lepp. The evidence was used to impeach Lepp’s testimony during his 2008 trial.

The Circuit Court denied Lepp’s motion to dismiss the case on the basis of “outrageous government conduct”, stating also that the 10-year statutory minimum sentence imposed by the District Court was not “cruel and unusual punishment under the Eight Amendment”.

The memorandum is available here.

Reference:

Gonzales v. O Centro

Unemployment Division v. Smith

U.S. v. Bauer

 

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