Chicoan appeals federal conviction for growing marijuana
October 2nd, 2003
SACRAMENTO - Self-proclaimed Chico medical marijuana grower Bryan Epis is appealing his federal cultivation conviction, asserting his jury was misled on the facts and the law .
Epis is currently serving a 10-year federal prison term for conspiring to grow more than 1,000 marijuana plants near a school.
He is seeking a review of his case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco, which has ruled favorably in the past on medical-marijuana issues.
Among the core concerns raised in Epis' appeal, are whether federal drug laws "pre-empt" Proposition 215 - the 1996 voter initiative legalizing medicinal use of marijuana in California with a doctor's recommendation.
In a 45-page written brief, Epis' appellate lawyer argues that because medical marijuana has "no direct or obvious effect on interstate commerce," federal drug laws are being "unconstitutionally applied against the cultivation and consumption of the herb in this state.
Epis was arrested June 25, 1997, after Butte County sheriff's officers reportedly uncovered a grow operation at the basement of his Frances Willard Avenue home in Chico and seized 458 seedlings and plants. The home is near Chico Junior High School.
Epis asserts through his appellate attorney, Brenda Grantland of Mill Valley, that the government was allowed to put in "deceptively prejudicial" evidence at his trial last year to try to prove he was part of a much larger drug operation than actually existed.
The Chico law student also maintains that the judge erred by permitting his jury to learn he had a prior marijuana cultivation conviction and by employing improper factors to increase his sentence.
Epis is asking the appellate court to grant him a new trial or at least reduce his prison term.
The prosecutor who handled the case was unavailable Wednesday and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento said at this point the government has "no comment" regarding Epis' appeal.
During his June 2002 jury trial before U.S District Judge Frank C. Damrell in Sacramento, Epis asserted he was among four medical marijuana patients growing pot for themselves and a now-defunct group, "Chico Medical-Marijuana Caregivers."
The government, conversely, argued Epis was hiding behind Prop. 215 to illegally sell the drug.
During the Chico man's trial, which drew dozens of pro-medical marijuana protesters, Assistant U.S Attorney Samuel Wong introduced a three-page "marketing plan" seized from the Chico defendant's computer.
One drug agent testified that the spreadsheet projected earnings within one year of more than $4 million per week had Epis not been arrested.
Epis maintains the government deceptively excerpted the calculations from a 17-page "rough draft" proposal he had for starting up a large medical marijuana dispensary in the Bay Area, which never got off the ground.
Not allowing Epis to place the entire document into evidence to show it was not related to the Chico grow, denied him a fair trial, his attorney contends.
"The figures in the documents are unrealistic to the point of absurdity - doubling each month ... and clearly relate to dispensing marijuana at a dispensary, not growing it," Grantland argues in her appellate brief.
"The end figure (on the spreadsheet) of 100,000 members by Jan. 1, 1998, for example, is much higher than the population of Chico and many neighboring cities and far exceeds the total of 30,000 patients with doctors recommendations for medical marijuana in all of California today," the defense attorney observed.
In arguing that the prosecution of Epis was unconstitutional, his lawyer contends federal drug laws are aimed primarily at curtailing "interstate" drug trafficking.
She reminded the 9th Circuit judges that in a prior ruling, they had found that "medical marijuana, when grown locally for personal consumption, does not have any direct or obvious effect on interstate commerce."
In her appellate brief, the attorney for the convicted Chico pot grower argues: "Barring controlled sources of medical marijuana, such as Epis' indoor garden," could have the opposite result Congress intended: "swelling illicit drug trafficking by forcing ill persons onto the black market."
The government has not yet filed its own brief in the case and no date has been set for hearing Epis' appeal.