The prisoner of America’s War on Drugs discusses his incarceration for cultivation, legalization, William Randolph Hearst’s conspiracy against hemp, California’s “unconstitutional” cannabis regulations, god, and the High Times lifetime achievement award he’ll receive next month, the day after his house arrest ends.
BY ED MURRIETA
SACRAMENTO — For eight and a half years, Eddy Lepp was America’s most celebrated cannabis convict, serving federal time, including a stint in the U.S. government’s most notorious penitentiary, for growing more than 40,000 plants on a 20-acre operation that observers said resembled a Christmas tree farm.
Lepp was released from prison in Florence, Colo., on Dec. 9 and returned that day to Northern California, one month after cannabis was legalized in the Golden State.
Today, Lepp, at age 65, is an outspoken survivor of America’s ongoing War on Drugs, which began while Lepp was serving as a soldier in an Army intelligence unit during the Vietnam War and which snared him at his Lake County farm in 1995, 2004, 2005 and 2007.
Gray-bearded and worn by mortality — hearing him speak of the deaths of his wife, Linda Senti, and his friend Jack Herer, the legendary cannabis activist, their loss from his life sounds fresh — Lepp is built like a boxer fighting into twilight, through 20 years of personal legal battles and against 50 years of government lies about what he believes is a sacred plant that was put into the earth by a caring god but is instead governed by illegal laws.
Under the terms of his release (18 months earlier than the mandatory-minimum 10-year sentence, with time off for good behavior) Lepp is currently under house-arrest. He wears an electronic ankle bracelet that monitors his whereabouts and he is drug tested weekly.
While Lepp will be subject to drug testing for the next five years, Lepp’s probation will end on June 2, two days before Lepp will receive a lifetime achievement award at the High Times NorCal Cannabis Cup at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, an honor and an event that celebrates the botanical drug and the cannabis culture that Lepp planted and nurtured throughout his adult life, as both a grower and as an ordained Rastafarian minister.
I contacted Lepp via Facebook on Friday. He said to come on over Saturday. We sat in the patio-covered back yard of the vintage ground-floor apartment Lepp shares with his girlfriend, the cannabis consultant Heidi Grossman, on a leafy street in Sacramento’s hip Midtown neighborhood. Lepp consumed Dr Pepper and American Spirits. I accepted Grossman’s offer of water and a bowl of Tangie.
I asked Lepp to talk about his legal issues; his house arrest; his lifetime achievement; his friendship with Jack Herer; his experience with cannabis in Vietnam; his time in the federal supermax prison that houses terrorists; his spirituality; and his current work with a cannabis business incubator located above a Mercedes-Benz dealership in suburban Sacramento.
Lepp’s answers were generous, expansive and captivating. In a free-flowing interview that could double as a Saturday-morning sermon from an elder statesman, Lepp also expounded on topics from how to find your hero to the existence of an ideal god that’s both masculine and feminine to the conspiracy orchestrated by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst in the 1930s that keeps industrial hemp illegal to this day to state and local regulation of cannabis in California, which Lepp calls unconstitutional.
I’ve got more than an hour of audio to transcribe. Good thing Lepp’s smoked-whiskey voice reminds me of the great mystery novelist James Crumley and his classic noir antiheroes, troubled and interesting men who resonate.