Eddy Lepp, one of California’s most famed medical cannabis activists, passed away last week after a battle with cancer.
This week marked the first of many celebrations of his life that will occur around the state and world.
At the core of it all, Eddy’s eternal passion for cannabis likely played a major impact in the magnetism he had on those around him for decades as they worked to push cannabis to where it is today. While Lepp certainly would have liked to have seen a legalization model similar to what his dear friend, the late Jack Herer, offered over the years, he certainly helped pave the way for this imperfect moment that’s far better than the one that landed him and so many others in a cage for a plant.
While Eddy had some previous legal hiccups with cannabis in the late 1990s, the raid that made him California’s most famous prisoner in the federal government’s crusade against medical cannabis happened on August 18, 2004.
The previous January, a DEA task force officer working undercover met with Lepp and negotiated for the purchase of one pound of dried and processed marijuana. The agent was wired and his partners listened in.
When announcing Eddy’s arrest, the DEA noted, “During this meeting, Lepp stated to the undercover TFO that he possessed a strain of cannabis that would make White Widow pale in comparison. White Widow is a type of marijuana with a high THC content.”
At the time of the raid, Eddy’s Medicinal Gardens was likely the largest medical cannabis cultivation operation on the planet seven years after the passage of Prop. 215. Lepp would provide people space for up to six plants to grow their own medicine. They would pay a fee per plant that went to the costs of caring for it through the season.
The model proved popular and swelled to thousands of plants visible from the roadside. But in turn, Eddy became an ever-growing blip on the radar of authorities, especially given how much more outspoken he was in his activism than most of those living in the hills of the Emerald Triangle.
So when they came for Eddy, they weren’t just coming for someone that was attempting to provide for the sick. They were coming for someone who himself had helped get push the movement forward as the idea of medical marijuana was now percolating in places on the East Coast.
As Eddy went through his court battle in the 2000s, one of the main publications that chronicled his journey was High Times. Following his passing, the magazine noted on the farm, “At the time, it was considered to be one of the largest cannabis operations of its time, serving up to 1,000 medical cannabis patients. The operation was valued at $130 million, and it took DEA agents two days to confiscate approximately 32,500 plants that were growing on Lepp’s property in Upper Lake, California.”
High Times would also provide the backdrop for one of Lepp’s most famed tales. In 2004, they named him Freedom Fighter of the Year, but to accept the award he would need to go to Amsterdam to pick it up. In the midst of his legal battles, his lawyer was able to convince the judge to give him permission to leave the country. When he returned to America after receiving the award his lawyer asked him why he came back.
After the drawn-out court proceedings, Eddy would eventually enter federal custody in 2009. During his years in custody, he would be considered among the primary examples of well-intended medical cannabis providers who found themselves on the wrong side of federal law. He would end up spending much of the last decade of his life in prison.
In 2016, when he returned home to California, it felt like another major turning point in cannabis. The state’s most famous medical cannabis prisoner was home.
Eddy was able to enjoy five more years with his family, friends and comrades. His legacy and impact on cannabis around the world will last much longer than that.