Judge: Hands off the jury, man

Bryan Epis says he was just trying to “get the truth out,” but a pissed-off federal judge disagreed Monday and had the medical-marijuana advocate briefly arrested for jury tampering.

Epis, who’s charged with marijuana cultivation and conspiracy to cultivate marijuana, both charges enhanced by the allegation of doing so within 1,000 feet of a school (Chico High School), said the jury tampering is “just the latest line of bullshit in a long line of it.”

“They don’t want the jury to hear the truth,” he said Monday night, after being released from custody. “You think the judge is going to let me get up there on the stand and say what really happened? Hell no! So what am I supposed to do?”

Epis acknowledges standing with a group of his Butte County supporters before his hearing, passing out fliers that the group produced. The fliers denounce the prosecution of medical-marijuana advocates and providers born out of California’s Prop. 215 and “shed some light” on the criminal-justice system, Epis said, by “showing how jurors are lied to.”

U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell, upon learning that almost all of the prospective jurors had been approached by Epis and his supporters when walking into the building Monday morning and supplied with the fliers—which contain a first-person narrative of the case attributed to Epis—dismissed all 42 prospective jurors and continued the hearing for later this week with a new jury pool.

Damrell had Epis briefly arrested for jury tampering, but he was released that afternoon. He will be in court Aug. 1 for a hearing on the charge.

Monday’s courtroom battling is just the latest round in a long war over medical marijuana generally and Epis in particular.

He was arrested in June 1997 after Butte County Sheriff’s deputies raided his West Francis Willard Avenue home and found hundreds of marijuana plants growing in his basement. The federal government, which does not recognize Prop. 215, got involved when the Drug Enforcement Agency was brought in on the case soon after the raid.

Epis, who had a recommendation to use marijuana to treat pain from several broken vertebrae he suffered in a car accident, claimed he has a legitimate reason for the clandestine garden: to supply other, sicker medical-marijuana patients with the only medicine that helps them get through the day.

Officially at least, Epis, who still lives in Chico, has largely given up that dream for now. He’s still a passionate advocate for medical-marijuana users and their rights, but he’s got a living to make—and he makes a good one as the operator of two online travel reservation Web sites. He estimates that the business nets him $20,000 to $30,000 a month.

He’s vowed to take his courtroom fight "as far as I have to."