Epis vows to appeal pot cultivation conviction

His supporters say he’s a compassionate man who’s being scapegoated for trying to deliver medicine to the sick, but a Sacramento jury disagreed last week and convicted Bryan Epis of cultivating marijuana.

Epis, 35, will spend at least 10 years in prison, the mandatory minimum sentence set by the federal government. He was charged with cultivation in June 1997 after sheriff’s deputies found him growing upward of 1,000 marijuana plants in his Chico basement. He was a founding member of the Chico Medical Marijuana Co-op and claimed that he was growing the plants only to supply other Butte County medical-marijuana patients with the herb.

Because so many plants were found at his house, the federal government prosecuted the case, charging that Epis planned to sell his crop for profit.

Epis, 35, is being held in the Sacramento County Jail while he waits to be sentenced next month.

The conviction ends a trial that was dogged with controversy from the start. Federal Judge Frank C. Damrell charged Epis with jury tampering after prosecutors saw him passing out his own account of his arrest outside the courthouse to people who described themselves as potential jurors in the case. All of the those potential jurors—43 of them—were dismissed. Damrell later ordered that the jurors finally selected be driven to the Sacramento courthouse each morning in limos, to avoid seeing the dozens of protesters holding up signs attesting to Epis’ medical-marijuana defense.

He was barred from using the medical defense in court, as the federal government doesn’t recognize California’s Proposition 215.

Epis’ girlfriend, Aimee Coffman, said that he was surprised to have been found guilty. While he was barred from using a medical defense, Coffman acknowledged that his witnesses “tried to slip it into” their testimonies.

“They tried to hint at it, so maybe it would put it into the jurors’ heads that there was something about the case that they weren’t allowed to hear,” she said. “But I guess it didn’t work.”

Coffman, who said she’s visited Epis twice in jail since the sentencing, said that he’s “pretty upset” about the verdict but has vowed to appeal it. He’s especially upset about spending at least 10 years in prison because he has an 8-year-old daughter who will be an adult by the time he’s released, she said.

"This is just the most terrible miscarriage of justice I can think of," Coffman said. "This was treated like a military trial. … It never should have been a federal case to begin with."