Forcible harvest

One of the largest medical-marijuana busts in history went down last month in nearby Lake County, leaving perhaps thousands of Northstate medical-pot users scrambling for a new drug supplier.

Strangely, the raid, conducted Aug. 18 by dozens of DEA agents, Lake County sheriff’s deputies and California National Guard troops, has received almost no attention from the press, even though a DEA spokesman confirmed this week that the haul from Charles “Eddy” Lepp’s Medicinal Gardens—almost 33,000 plants with an estimated street value of $130 million—was “if not the biggest then right up there at the top.”

Lepp’s medicinal-marijuana farm and “Multi-Denominational Ministry of Cannabis and Rastafari” was profiled last year in a CN&R story about the status of Prop. 215, the 1996 California law that allowed those with a doctor’s recommendation to grow, smoke and possess marijuana. Lepp, 50, a grizzled Vietnam veteran who smokes marijuana to ease back pain, had been renting out small plots of his 40-acre farm in Upper Lake to medpot patients for the purpose of cultivating marijuana. While he had been operating in the open under the assumption that California law would protect him from prosecution, the federal government, which raided his farm in 2002 but declined to press charges at that time, considers Lepp a drug dealer, and a major one at that.

When contacted by phone last week, Lepp blasted the DEA for ignoring the will of California voters, targeting sick people instead of “real drug dealers” and improperly seizing legal files regarding other cases Lepp has pending against the government. An outspoken advocate for the rights of medical-cannabis users, Lepp once successfully sued the state of California to get back about an ounce of processed marijuana taken from him in a traffic stop and has also challenged the authority of the federal government to prosecute medical-marijuana users.

“If the federal government has a problem with state law, let them take the state to court,” Lepp said. “Why do they have to come out here and harass me? I’ve done everything out in the open—I’ve done everything right.”

It took two days to completely harvest and haul away the plants spread around Lepp’s property. Lepp said the agents hauled away several truckloads of marijuana plants in open, uncovered trucks, and in doing so left possibly hundreds of plants littered along the freeway.

“There were people out there getting in fights, stopping in the middle of the highway trying to pick up those plants,” he said.

DEA spokesman Richard Meyer said the bust was “carefully planned” and legal, noting that, while the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws has yet to be settled, the agency continues to regard marijuana as a dangerous drug that is illegal for any purpose under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Meyer said he was not at the actual bust and so could not comment on Lepp’s accusations regarding either the method of transporting the seized pot or the whereabouts of his legal files.

Authorities arrested a total of 14 people at the property, mostly on state drug charges. Lepp was charged in federal court with possession with intent to distribute, conspiracy, maintaining a residence used for the manufacture of drugs and being in possession of a legal handgun while in the process of committing a felony. He faces several life terms. Lepp was released on a $200,000 bond and vowed to fight the charges until the very end.