A Conversation with Eddy Lepp
After serving time for marijuana activities that are now legal in many states, the Rastafarian minister again wants to heal the sick and has a warning for those who seek profit from post-prohibition pot.
On the morning of August 18, 2004, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration raided the farms of Eddy’s Medicinal Gardens and Multi-Denominational Chapel of Cannabis and Rastafari. There they arrested Charles Eddy Lepp, then a 52-year-old man who had been allowing patients to cultivate cannabis on his property for medical purposes.
Eddy Lepp had been acting in accordance with California’s Prop 215, the landmark 1996 initiative that legalized medical marijuana, which he and his wife Linda helped to pass by gathering over 500 signatures for the petition.
Lepp, a veteran who’d discovered the medical benefits of cannabis in Vietnam, made no secret of his activities. He started with a small 51 plant garden in 1996 he tended for two other patients and his own post-traumatic stress, back pain, degenerative arthritis, and skin cancer. He was busted with 24,784 plants that the DEA seized in 2004 on 20 acres of property that runs through his Upper Lake property in Northern California, clearly visible from Highway 20. Through it all, he had been raided, arrested, charged, and acquitted by local and state authorities, further convincing Lepp his activities were legal under state law.
Lepp was convicted of federal drug felonies in 2007 and sentenced in 2009 to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. During his imprisonment, his friend Jack Herer and his wife Linda Senti passed away, and states began legalizing adult use marijuana. Last December, Eddy Lepp was freed from prison into a halfway house as he begins the probationary portion of his sentence. Freedom Leaf spoke with Lepp by telephone at that halfway house in January; the interview has been edited for length and clarity.
FREEDOM LEAF: What exactly was the conviction and the sentence in your case?
EDDY LEPP: Well, originally, I was looking at four life sentences plus forty years and $17 million in fines on six or seven different charges. The judge through all of the search warrants out of court, completely and totally. What I was actually convicted of was conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance, which is growing marijuana, and conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, which was the marijuana. I received no fine and I received a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence. It’ll be over eight years by the time I get out of the halfway house it’ll be like eight years and two months that I been in custody of Bureau of Prisons. It’s been a long ride.
LEAF: Literally a long ride. Where are some of the places you were imprisoned?
LEPP: Well, I originally surrendered myself to Lompoc [in California], and they should have immediately sent me to the camp, but they didn’t. I ended up being there almost a year. And then I had come up to San Francisco to go back to court and when I went to court. When I went back from that the judge sent a letter saying “why isn’t he in a camp?” They transferred me to the camp at Lompoc where I spent nearly two years.
[Then I got transferred to ] Latoona in El Paso, Texas, and the federal prison in Florence, Colorado, is right there at the little town of Florence, which is about twenty miles south of Pueblo. Which I thought kind of funny, because by the time I got there, Colorado had legalized marijuana and I wasn’t there, oh, I don’t know, a very short amount of time, and my dear friend Tommy Chong became partners with a gentleman who owns one of the retail outlets in Pueblo.
So for the nearly three years that I sat there in federal prison over marijuana charges, Tommy Chong, who is an ex-federal prisoner on very similar charges to what I faced, is a half-owner in a retail outlet selling marijuana legally to people from all over the world. So, it was kind of ludicrous, you know?
LEAF: The span of time that you were behind bars has been a remarkable change in how we deal with marijuana commerce throughout the country. How does that make you feel? Are you going to do like Tommy and get in on this commercial end of marijuana?
LEPP: I hope to go back to doing what I’ve been doing for twenty years mostly, which is being an advocate for the full legalization of hemp as an industrial product. My best friend, the late great Jack Herer, and I spent the last ten years of his life traveling all over the world lecturing and speaking about this.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that Jack and I seldom talked about the uses of cannabis. What we talked about mostly was industrial hemp and why it wasn’t being used for the purposes that God intended it.
The most used commodity in products today is sea kelp. Sea kelp is used in between 12 to 15 hundred products, everything from shoe polish to toothpaste. It’s been estimated that if they had the same freedom to experiment with hemp like they do with sea kelp, that hemp would be in 5 to 10 thousand products within two years, and over 25 thousand within five years.
It’s truly God’s gift to his children, not just for the spiritual use and the medicinal use, but as an industrial product, second to none.
LEAF: We’ve had remarkable change in that area, too, with Colorado hemp, Oregon hemp farmers, they’re doing it in Kentucky and other states. That must warm your heart a bit.
LEPP: I was speaking with one of the editors from one of the major cannabis magazines in the United States, and he was just prolific in his praise for me. [He] explained that he certainly understood, having been in the movement for a long time, that had it not been for me and Linda Senti and what we did, that it wouldn’t be where it is now.
You know, I was told time and time again when I was in prison by various prison employees that my problem was I was fifteen or twenty years before my time. So, it wasn’t really a surprise to me, because I did see it coming, many, many years ago.
LEAF: As you look at this developing industry, are you worried about this profit motive, about this Green Rush attitude that’s happening?
LEPP: Regardless of if I am worried about it or not, it doesn’t really matter. Just as I foresaw what was going to happen twenty years ago, I can foresee what’s going to happen now.
It is big business. The big players are trying to get involved all the time. RJ Reynolds [now Altria] is trying to get involved. Scott’s fertilizer companies are trying to get involved. These are billion-dollar companies.
And there’s no way to get around it. America’s based on capitalism and it always has been. So, I’m not at all surprised that there are people who want to make money off of marijuana.
Personally, I don’t have any trouble with people making money off of marijuana. I mean, you’re writing a story. Are you writing it for free?
LEAF: We hear from growers in Northern California and people that have built up this economy built around the price of marijuana as a prohibited product now worried about the price crash that’s happening under legalization, as are some states that are depending on that tax revenue.
LEPP: The thing is this: California and all of these other states that depend on it as tax revenue… (sigh) I don’t know exactly the word I’m looking for, but it’s bullshit. OK?
Marijuana should not be taxed at any higher rate than any other agriculture product. Now I know that all of the politicians in the world see this as the golden goose laying the golden egg. But they’re completely and totally wrong about this. This plant was a gift to his children from Jah.
It was not meant to be exploited by man or government. And the fact that they’re exploiting it is ridiculous. I think back when California first legalized marijuana through [Prop] 215. There was this big hue and cry about everybody having to get a state-issued registration card. So that theyt would be a registered marijuana users.
I can remember tetlling numerous public officials that I spoke to, “Look, I will be the first one to get that registered marijuana card for you, but I’ll tell you what, even though I’ll be he first one in that line, the only way that line is going to form is if I am standing behind the last guy in line that is on opiates.”
You want to register a recommended or prescribed product like marijuana, fine, we’ll do it. But you get a registration card for everybody that’s out there that’s on pain pills. You get a registration card for everybody out there that’s on [anti-]psychotics. You get a registration card for everybody that’s out there using all these other drugs, and I’ll be glad to get one for marijuana.
Why are you singling out marijuana? Do you have card for people to go down and buy a six-pack?
LEAF: We have a new president. Does that give you any concern, or do you think that the marijuana juggernaut is just too big at this point to stop, economically?
LEPP: I don’t think he wants to. I see no reason in the world he’d want to stop it. I mean, Trump don’t hang out with congressmen and senators; he buys and sells them. OK? I’m just talking historically, the way his world runs. He don’t hang out with them; he buys and sells them.
Now, who does he hang out with? The other guys on the Fortune 500 list, that’s who he hangs out with. That’s who he eats lunch with, that’s who he plays golf with, that’s who he goes into business with. AS I pointed out earlier, there are all kinds of major national and international corporations getting into the marijuana industry.
Why would Trump piss on his friends? Because that’s what he’s going to have to do to be totally anti-marijuana. Personally, I don’t see it happening.
I think that Mr. Trump may, in fact, be a very good thing for the marijuana industry. Where Obama didn’t have the courage to follow-up on his campaign promises, and do what he said he would do, Trump may very well, in fact, do it. Because it is a cash crop, and it is, because of the way it’s regulated, the goose that laid the golden egg, there’s no doubt about it.
LEAF: There’s concern in these governments that the ability of the consumers to grow their own undercuts that tax revenue. Wouldn’t it be in Trump’s friends’ best interest to kill our home grow right?
LEPP: I don’t see how. Did you ever hear of a little company called Budweiser? Did you ever hear of a little company called Coors? Did you ever hear of a little company called Mogen-David? Correct me if I’m wrong, but are these or are these not fuckin’ multi-billion-dollar goddamn corporations?
Now, are you aware of the fact that every American in the United States, and I repeat, every American in the United States, has the legal right to produce, without permits, with no interference from the government in any way, shape, or form, 500 gallons of wine and 500 gallons of beer, each, every year.
Well, Budweiser and Coors and Mogen-David and all of these other billion-dollar companies, everybody in the world’s got the right to make their own beer and wine, but they’re still giant corporations making billions of dollars, selling the same product.
LEAF: Well, Nevada just passed a law with no home grow within 25 miles of a pot shop. Massachusetts and Maine are talking about trying to pass laws to undercut the home grow rights that just got passed in their initiatives. So, there are those that are trying to kill the home grow rights.
LEPP: I’m not saying that there aren’t people trying to kill it, that’s not what I’m saying. You asked a question slightly different than that. I do not agree with it in any way, shape, or form.
Again, I will reiterate and go back to what I said earlier: marijuana should be treated the same as any other agricultural product.
LEAF: Rev. Eddy Lepp, thank you for taking the time to talk to FREEDOM LEAF today. We do wish the best for you. Is there a way our readers could get in contact with you?
LEPP: I’m on Facebook and you can get ahold of Heidi Grossman on Facebook. Heidi will see to it that I get any and all messages. Sometimes it takes me a little bit to get back to people because I’m e-literate.
Honest to God, when I came out of prison, Heidi gave me this cell phone, and I had to ask her, “what do I do?” I didn’t know how to turn it on, I didn’t know how to access the phone.
LEAF: Welcome back to the free world. At some point, you’ll be completely free and at least you’re freer than you were before.
LEPP: Oh, yeah, like I said, they’re treating me as well as can be expected and I’m looking forward to going home to Heidi. With any luck, there may be wedding bells in the future here shortly.