Federal Pot Prisoners Will Not Be Home for the Holidays

by Debby Goldsberry

Eddy Lepp
After victories in Colorado, Washington, and Massachusetts, cannabis reform advocates have a lot to celebrate. But, with an annual estimate of 850,000 cannabis arrests, the fight to end the War on Cannabis is far from over. After all, 36 states and the federal government still incarcerate people for simple possession of cannabis. Last year, in a policy no longer supported by the voters, the feds locked up more than 100 people for simple possession alone.
“Thanksgiving is upon us and X-MASS right behind. Hard to believe but its my 4th set of holidays in prison. Sure hope Santa brings good news and I get out soon,” says federal pot prisoner Eddy Lepp, in his weekly letter to supporters.
Lepp is part of a smaller subgroup of arrestee’s, the more than 6200 people sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana cultivation and sales each year. Lepp is a well-known medical cannabis advocate, and some would say, a boundary pushing dreamer. Back in 2004, he was arrested by the feds for openly cultivating several acres of medical cannabis for patients in Lake County, California. Now, he will spend ten years locked up in a federal penitentiary, unless advocates can change the laws faster.
Green Aid, an Oakland, California, based nonprofit group, helps cannabis arrestees and prisoners, like Lepp, who are caught between state laws that legalize cannabis and the “zero-tolerance” federal laws. A former pot prisoner himself, Rosenthal was arrested for cannabis cultivation in 2002, and fought back against a 20-year mandatory sentence. Ultimately spending only one day in jail, he is branded a federal felon for life. Green Aid coordinates regular fundraisers and runs on a volunteer staff. But, Rosenthal is noticeably disappointed with the efforts to raise funds for people like Lepp, saying less than 1% of the groups 11,000 facebook members donate. He says supporters think “the next person will do it. They will raise all the money. It’s too much bother. I can’t afford it.” This leaves pot prisoners and their families to fend for themselves at the holidays.
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