MedMj Chronicles I: The Feds Are Deadly Serious: Bryan Epis Sentenced to Federal Prison 10/11/02

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Federal prosecutors made an example out of Bryan Epis, and the final act in their judicial witch-burning occurred Monday in federal court in Sacramento, where US District Judge Frank C Damrell Jr. sentenced the Chico resident to a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence. Epis, who was operating within the guidelines of a California state law allowing medical marijuana as he grew for himself and four other patients, was the first California medical marijuana grower to be tried by federal prosecutors, though not the first to be convicted. (Todd McCormick, for example, is in the third year of a five year sentence.)

Epis was convicted of growing more than 100 plants and conspiracy to grow more than 1000 plants after a 1997 raid, a year after Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana in the state. Judge Damrell refused to allow Epis to present a medical defense, citing the Supreme Court's decision in the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club case ruling such defenses invalid.

Federal prosecutors held tough to their fictions that there is no such thing as medical marijuana and that people involved in the movement are essentially dope dealers. "He is no different than any other drug trafficker that this court has seen and sent to jail," US Attorney Samuel Wong said of Epis.

"This is federal law enforcement at its most atrocious," said California NORML ( director Dale Gieringer, "and it really shows how excessive those federal mandatory minimums are. Here is a guy who I know thought what he was doing was legal. He was acting with good faith under California law, and he gets 10 years in prison," he told DRCNet. "It shows you what a ruthless prosecutor like Wong can do."

Wong, a self-described marijuana specialist, proved himself a vindictive inquisitor, even urging the judge to find him guilty of perjury and obstructing justice for testifying that he grew marijuana for medical reasons, not for profit. He did mange to convince the judge that Epis was "a manager or supervisor" of a criminal enterprise. Wong's last words to Judge Damrell before Epis was sentenced were: "He's a crook." "Wong knows nothing about pot," said Gieringer, charitably ascribing the prosecutor's behavior to ignorance instead of malevolence.

The Epis case has become a focal point of resistance to the federal crusade against medical marijuana, and while prosecutors changed his sentencing date at the last minute, his original sentencing date of September 23 in Sacramento saw what may have been the largest medical marijuana demonstration ever. Coordinated by Americans for Safe Access (, an emergency response coalition formed in the face of escalating federal raids, that protest included civil disobedience resulting in 29 arrests at the federal courthouse where Epis was sentenced Monday.

"This is a tragedy," said ASA's Hilary McQuie, "but the real crime here is that a peaceable man in being separated from his young daughter for 10 years." But he may not be the only one, McQuie warned DRCNet. "There are 35 other California medical marijuana people being prosecuted by the feds right now," she said. "Bryan was just the first."

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Issue #258, 10/11/02 Editorial: Just Claims | Ordeal of the Pain Doctors: California Physician Still Struggling to Clear His Name, Trial Date Set for December | DRCNet Interview: Nandor Tanczos, Member of Parliament, New Zealand | California Medical Marijuana Chronicles: A Widening Conflict | MedMj Chronicles I: The Feds Are Deadly Serious: Bryan Epis Sentenced to Federal Prison | MedMj Chronicles II: San Jose Police Department Cuts Ties with DEA Task Force | MedMj Chronicles III: Marijuana Patients and Caregivers Sue the Feds, Seek Order to Stop Raids | MedMj Chronicles IV: Marijuana Rescheduling Petition Revived | FDA Approves Buphrenorphine for Home Addiction Treatment | Whose Brain on Drugs? Stanford Symposium Focuses on Addiction and Chemistry | Newsbrief: Colombian Ombudsman Petitions Government for Suspension of Herbicide Spraying | Newsbrief: RAVE Act Stalled in House, Could Be Dead for the Year | Newsbrief: Wisconsin Couple Commit Suicide After Pot and 'Shroom Bust, Forfeiture Notice | Newsbrief: Ban on Narcocorridos Spreads in Mexico | Newsbrief: School Districts Drug Testing for Tobacco, Too | Newsbrief: Leaders of Former Soviet Republics Meet to Fight Drugs and Terror, Drink Wine | Newsbrief: Canadian Researchers Seek Approval for Heroin Maintenance Study | Calling on Students to Raise Your Voices for Repeal of the HEA Drug Provision | Action Alerts: Rave Bill, Medical Marijuana, Higher Education Act Drug Provision | The Reformer's Calendar

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