$80 Million Medical Marijuana Farm Busted

G Anderson Press Democrat
$80 Million Medical Marijuana Farm Busted
Fri Aug 20, 2004 02:19

$80 million pot farm busted
Medical marijuana activist, 12 others arrested; 20,000 plants seized along Highway 20

UPPER LAKE - Investigators raided a sprawling pot farm Wednesday in northwest Lake County, seizing 20,000 marijuana plants grown in open view of passing motorists on Highway 20.
The farm, owned by a well-known medical marijuana activist with a penchant for pushing the boundaries of California's drug laws, would have yielded a crop worth more than $80 million when it matured this fall, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Richard Meyer said.
"Marijuana is a very lucrative business," Meyer said. "In my opinion, greed is the driving force, not compassion."
The 20-acre farm would have produced the largest medical marijuana crop in the world, according to an August article in High Times, a magazine devoted to marijuana cultivation.
DEA agents arrested medical marijuana activist Charles "Eddy" Lepp on marijuana cultivation charges, Meyer said. Twelve other people also were arrested during the raid, he said. Their identities and details of their arrests and charges were unavailable.
The farm's precise rows of pot plants and drip irrigation system resembled a corporate Wine Country vineyard more than an outlaw pot field. Row after row of knee-high plants could be seen from Highway 20, which skirts the farm just 50 yards away across an open field. To the rear of the property, plants were as high as 8 feet tall, law enforcement agents said.
Lepp made no pretense of hiding the pot farm, touted as the "World's Biggest Medi-Garden" in a headline on the August cover of High Times.
A minister in the Universal Life Church, Lepp is "devoted wholeheartedly to one thing: proving that our federal government has no right to prevent anyone from using marijuana," the magazine wrote in a January story headlined "The Man Who Would Change the World."
Members of his "ministry" bought shares of the marijuana crop, Lepp's wife, Linda Senti, said Wednesday.
"They're not his plants. Eddy and I had plants, but the other plants were patients' plants," Senti said.
She said the crop had more than 1,000 shareholders.
"They're going to suffer a lot. That was a year's supply of medication for them," Senti said.
Lepp has become something of a celebrity in medical marijuana circles. He has lobbied Lake County supervisors to set medical marijuana standards, and he smoked pot openly outside the Federal Building in Santa Rosa during a 2002 demonstration in support of medical marijuana.
In 1997, Lepp and another man were arrested with 131 pot plants in Lake County. Lepp's co-defendant pleaded guilty to illegal cultivation, but Lepp went to trial in Lake County and was found innocent, largely because he is a medical marijuana patient.
Two years ago, federal agents seized about 350 plants from Lepp and Senti, but they were never arrested. Senti said they've sued the federal government to recover the plants.
Lepp's farm, about a mile east of Upper Lake, was hardly a secret in Lake County.
"It's been controversial here for a long time," said lifelong Upper Lake resident Mickey Strong, owner of B.J.'s Beauty Boutique. "We tried to get him (Lepp) out before, but he keeps showing up like a bad penny."
Local law enforcement officials have known about the operation long before the August story in High Times, said an investigator who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A task force of local, state and federal officers raided the ranch early Wednesday morning. They planned to work into the night ripping the plants out of the ground.
The crop was expected to fill two 40-cubic-yard trash bins. Officials kept some of the plants for evidence and planned to destroy the rest by burying them in trenches.
Lepp repeatedly has said he has the legal right to grow marijuana under a law approved by California voters in 1996, which exempts from prosecution patients and caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana for medical treatment.
But the law does not make it legal to sell marijuana, Meyer said. Nor is marijuana a legitimate drug under federal law, he said.
"I don't know where they get this idea marijuana is a life-saving medicine," Meyer said.
Senti said her husband was not selling the marijuana. Instead, she said, the pot was owned by patients who lease the land from him.
Lepp's Upper Lake neighbors, most of them aware of the garden, had mixed reactions about medical marijuana.
"I see the value in it," said Meyo Marrufo, owner of Native Ways, an Indian arts and crafts store in downtown Upper Lake. She said it could have helped her uncle when he was dying of AIDS.
"Live and let live," said longtime Upper Lake resident Joann Madia outside a store on Main Street.
The women in B.J.'s Beauty Boutique on Wednesday afternoon were of a different mind.
"It destroys the brain," Lucy Anderson said of the plant.


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