This Wednesday saw one of the most beloved prisoners of the war on cannabis leave federal prison to begin a five-year supervised release. Regardless of the circumstances, the Reverend Eddy Lepp is a lot closer to family, friends, and supporters back in California two decades after he helped collect signatures to legalize medical cannabis.
Early in the day, Lepp was released from prison in Florence, Colorado. The fact he, as a non-violent offender, was released in the same community that hosts some of America’s most violent prisoners at ADX Florence is one of many ridiculous side notes on a decade-long journey to this point in an already ridiculous “debt to society.” Eddy doesn’t owe us anything, and certainly the debt is on us.
Lepp’s battle with the federal government began in 2004. In early September that year federal agents with local assistance raided Lepp’s Medicinal Gardens and Multi-Denominational Ministry Of Cannabis and Rastafari. According to the DEA’s always unique value estimations, the crop was worth $130 Million.
At the time Lepp was one of the most prolific caregivers in the early days of medical cannabis with the proper documentation for 2,000 patients and a sprawling field that some compared to looking like a Christmas tree farm from the highway. Unfortunately, at the time, and to this day, the Feds don’t recognize any document that would authorize the use of cannabis as medicine.
Five years after the raid he was hit by the Justice Department with a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, and five years of supervised release which he just began this week.
Despite the obstacles ahead, the only thing that mattered at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday was the fact Eddy Lepp was home in California, a state that 20 years after his original efforts to help legalize medical cannabis, had legalized adult use of marijuana just a month prior to his release.
Supporters gathered early at SFO. A mixture of old school cultivators, activists, and the classic pairings of the two, in true Eddy fashion, were on hand to greet him as he made his way from the terminal descending the escalator to loud applause. As the crowd lined up to greet him one by one, his fellow passengers stopped to take note, “What’s going on?” one asked with a smile. as it was impossible not to note the joy in the room.
“He just served over seven years in prison for growing medical marijuana for sick people,” a supporter said.
In that moment the fellow passenger’s face told a story that understood both the ridiculous of these folks having to be there and the joy they felt having their friend and mentor back.
None had a better seat for the day’s events than fellow activist Heidi Grossman, who traveled to Colorado and met Lepp at gated of the facility he was in. There she saw the first wave of encouragement, “it was an amazing amount of support and love.”
Having someone you love caged as an animal and then released into something they call freedom… the biggest fear I have is that they’ll take him back,” said Grossman.
One of those in attendance to see their old friend was Lynette Shaw, who in 2015 won her own 18-year legal battle against the federal government that began in 1998 when she was a pioneering dispensary operator. She told Cannabis Now about how she felt seeing Eddy for the first time in all those years.
“I ran all the way down the terminal to hug and kiss Eddy, he was standing there in the crowd and turned around and saw me with tears streaming down my face and arms outstretched,” Shaw said. “Suddenly we were holding onto each other, laughing and crying. I got to feel his warmth, see his eyes, and hear his voice. Best day in years!”
One of the most touching moments of the day was when Eddy found out longtime friend, Prop 215 pioneer and founder of the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, Dennis Peron has come to the airport to welcome him. Due to Peron’s health, during the initial wave of salutations, he’d stayed back a bit. When he was told to look in the direction Peron was sitting Lepp immediately halted the conversation he was in and ran to him to embrace him.
The folks at the nation’s oldest cannabis advocacy organization were also excited to see one of the movement’s heroes reunited with family and friends.
“We are so glad to see Eddy Lepp released and hope that his freedom and continued advocacy will further the dialogue in California and nationwide on the need to release non-violent marijuana users immediately and retroactively expunge the records of those who have been jailed for crimes that are now legal,” said Justin Strekal, Political Director for NORML.”In the age of legalization, we still need to set right the violations of individuals liberties during prohibition.”
Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority, while thrilled with the release of any nonviolent cannabis offender, would like to see things taken a bit further.
“With so much uncertainty on the federal level following the election, we need President Obama to commute as many sentences as possible before he exits office,” said Angell. “It’d be a huge mistake to leave so many drug war prisoners behind bars for no good reason when the Constitution gives this president the unquestionable power to set them free.”
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