Pubdate: Thu, 6 May 2010
Source: Chico News & Review, The (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: Robert Speer

Back in the Slammer


For a time Bryan Epis was a hero among medical-marijuana activists. 
Now he's more like a martyr to the cause.

That's because, after an epic legal battle lasting since his arrest 
for marijuana cultivation nearly 13 years ago, in June 1997, the 
Chico man is now back in prison, ordered in February to serve out his 
original 10-year sentence. More precisely, he's in the Sacramento 
County Jail, waiting transfer to a state prison.

To his longtime girlfriend, Monica Focht, and his 16-year-old 
daughter, Ashley, it seems terribly unfair that, at a time when 
anyone can go online and find the addresses of hundreds of 
collectives and dispensaries selling marijuana up and down the state, 
he's in custody facing several more years of confinement for growing 
medical marijuana.

And they're at a loss to understand why he's being held in the 
notoriously grungy county jail. He'd been on probation and bail for 
more than five years and never missed a court date, so he clearly 
wasn't a flight risk. Why, they wonder, wasn't he just ordered to 
report directly to federal prison, as most nonviolent federal 
offenders are, rather than put in jail?

And they're still trying to get him set free. Money is a big problem. 
Epis and his family have spent more than $200,000 on his defense, and 
his current lawyer wants cash on the barrelhead. He is preparing a 
habeas corpus writ and also a pardon petition to be sent to President 
Obama; his current fee is $35,000.

 From his jail cell, Epis has sent a letter to as many cannabis 
dispensary operators as possible, asking them to ask each of their 
members to contribute $1 to his legal defense, in care of his mother, 
Barbara Epis, and addressed to Bryan Epis, 227 W. 22nd St., Chico, CA 
95928. He is also asking those members to use his business, a hotel 
booking site,, to make reservations, for which 
the dispensaries can receive a "10 percent cash back" pinch of the revenues.

Bryan Epis is a historic figure of sorts-the first person arrested 
for growing medical marijuana following passage of Proposition 215, 
the Compassionate Use Act, in 1996. He was caught growing 458 plants, 
most of them seedlings, in the basement of his home on West Frances 
Willard in the Mansion District.

Five men were involved in the grow, and each had a doctor's 
recommendation. Only Epis could be tied to directly to the plants, 
however, so only he was charged.

Local law-enforcement officials, led by District Attorney Mike 
Ramsey, quickly turned his case over to the federal courts, which 
don't recognize Prop 215. The most serious charge was conspiracy to 
manufacture 1,000 plants within 1,000 feet of a school (Chico High).

For five years, Epis was out on bail, awaiting trial. When finally he 
came before U.S. District Court Judge Frank Damrell, in 2002, he was 
not allowed to mention medical marijuana. Prosecutors presented a 
document Epis had drafted but never acted on that described a 
possible medi-pot dispensary in Silicon Valley as proof that he 
intended a much larger business in Chico, and the jury bought it.

He was sentenced to the mandatory minimum, 10 years. He spent 25 
months in prisons on Terminal Island and at Lompoc before being freed 
because of a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the federal stance 
on medical marijuana.

Once that was decided in the feds' favor, Epis was back before 
Damrell for reconsideration. It took three years, but on Feb. 22 the 
judge ordered him back to prison. With time served and good-behavior 
credits, he could be out in five years.

Monica Focht and Ashley Epis visit Epis twice a week in Sacramento, 
but they're eager for him to be transferred to Lompoc, even though 
it's farther away. There they'll be able to touch each other, rather 
than talk on telephones through a window.

Ashley has grown up feeling the anxiety her father's tenuous legal 
status has fostered. She knows him as a warm-hearted man who wouldn't 
hurt anyone, who goes out of his way to help others, and who was 
diligent about cooperating with authorities for so many years.

 From her visits to the Sacramento jail, Ashley knows it is "full of 
violent criminals" and not a place where her father is safe. "I 
thought it would be over by now," she said.

Both women wonder why the government thought it was necessary to 
spend as much as $2 million-their estimate-prosecuting Epis.

If you wish to know more, make a contribution or help with Epis' 
pardon petition, go to 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake