First Federal Medical Marijuana ConvictionMedical Provider Faces 10 Year Mandatory Minimum Sentence
SACRAMENTO— In a first-ever federal conviction of a medical marijuana provider, a jury in a Sacramento court yesterday found Chico resident Bryan Epis guilty of criminal conspiracy and drug manufacturing charges. Even as some of America’s closest allies have moved to decriminalize recreational use of the drug and despite a six year old state law that allows access to medical marijuana for seriously ill patients acting on their doctor’s advice, federal laws mandate that Epis spend at least 10 years behind bars.
Jurors for the trial were instructed by Judge Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. not to consider any argument regarding Epis’ chronic pain, his doctor’s prescription for medical marijuana or the state law that allows access to medical marijuana for patients in his position. Jurors were also not instructed on the mandatory minimum sentence that he now faces as a result of their decision. “This trial is an emblem of injustice,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, a national network of medical marijuana patients and providers, “California doesn’t want Bryan Epis to spend his next ten years behind bars—we decided that six years ago.”
The turbulent trial highlights a severe division between state and federal law enforcement officials over how to handle medical marijuana. Over the vehement objections of local health and public safety officials, the Drug Enforcement Administration has dramatically stepped up their crackdown on medical marijuana in California, arresting more than a dozen patients and providers since September. Citing federal forfeiture laws designed to break up criminal racketeering operations; the DEA has also moved to seize hundreds of thousands of dollars in property associated with the dispensaries including commercial real estate and residential homes.
Epis’ conviction confirms fears among many patients here that the federal government is targeting medical marijuana providers and patients rather than black market dealers. “When compassionate providers are jailed because they work to improve the lives of desperately sick people, we have a real crisis in our democracy” says Sherer, “this decision illustrates just how out of touch federal drug policy has become with the American public,” she continued.
The federal policy has drawn increased attention from the courts in recent weeks and has galvanized opponents across the country. Last month, a federal district court ruling reaffirming that the federal Controlled Substances Act allows the Justice Department to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries sparked protests in over 50 cities across the country that shut down several DEA offices for the day.
On Monday, hundreds of medical marijuana supporters will ask California Attorney General Bill Lockyer to work to defend California patients from federal incarceration at a rally and march beginning at the AG’s office and proceeding to the office of Governor Gray Davis.
For rally details, please contact ASA at 510.486.8083
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