When Californians voted to legalize medical marijuana under Proposition 215 almost 13 years ago, it's a safe bet that not many of them were expecting such prosecutions would continue well more than a decade later. But that's exactly what is happening, thanks to the Drug Enforcement Agency's war on marijuana and its users -- even the medical users who are legal under the laws of California and a dozen other states.
Speaking of a decade, that's just about how long Bryan Epis will spend in federal prison due to his conviction on federal marijuana charges, according to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. In a 3-0 ruling last month, the court said Epis had no reason to believe that Prop 215 would shield him from federal law.
In the very first case of its kind after the passage of Prop 215 in November 1996, Butte County officers seized 458 plants from the basement of Epis' home in June 1997, and claimed they had found records that more plants had been grown there. Epis, who has a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana medically, said he was growing the plants for himself and four other patients who shared the expenses.
The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that the federal government can enforce U.S. drug laws against medical marijuana suppliers and users in California and other states where medical pot is legal.
Epis was convicted by a Sacramento federal jury in 2002 of conspiring to grow more than 1,000 marijuana plants.
a long battle, it looks a lot as if Epis will continue serving (under
federal sentencing guidelines) at least 85 percent of his 10-year
sentence. Because Epis lived within 1,000 feet of a school, federal
rules require the 10-year term. Although Epis argued that his medical
grow would have no impact on interstate commerce, the court ruled that
"a large-scale marijuana growing operation ... can have an impact" on
The court also maintained that
Epis was not eligible for a lighter sentence because the evidence
showed he had been "manager of a drug conspiracy."
said the government violated his rights by destroying evidence after
the trial. But the court ruled that the evidence was destroyed only
because government employees mistakenly thought the case was finished.
Epis' lawyer, Brenda Grantland, said on Monday that she will ask the full appeals court for a new hearing.