SAN FRANCISCO, July 28 (UPI) -- The conviction and 10-year sentence of a California medical marijuana advocate who grew 32,000 pot plants for patients and fellow Rastafarians has been upheld.
The federal judge who originally sentenced Charles "Eddy" Lepp to prison in 2009 had criticized the federal law mandating a 10-year term for growing 1,000 or more marijuana plants, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday.
However, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of San Francisco said she was bound by the law, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
"The statutory minimum sentence is not cruel and unusual punishment," the three-judge panel said.
Federal agents arrested Lepp in 2004 after finding the marijuana plants in gardens near his home in Lake County.
Lepp argued the plants were for patients who had a right to use marijuana under California law, and also said he was a Rastafarian minister, for whom marijuana is a sacrament, and was growing the plants for 2,500 members of his church.
The appeals court upheld Patel's refusal to allow Lepp to invoke a religious defense, saying his prosecution served the government's "compelling interest in preventing diversion of sacramental marijuana to non-religious users."
Lepp's lawyer, Michael Hinckley, who had argued the 10-year sentence was grossly disproportionate to the crimes, said he was disappointed by the appeals court ruling.
"The thought of him spending 10 years in prison, in circumstances like these, is tragic," he said.