HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html U S Appeals Court Questions Pot Grower's 2002 Conviction
Pubdate: Thu, 17 Jun 2004
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2004 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Claire Cooper
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


SAN FRANCISCO - A federal appeals court raised serious questions
Wednesday about the pot-growing conviction of Bryan James Epis,
co-founder of the Chico Medical Marijuana Caregivers, but the judges
did not indicate whether they'll order a new trial.

Epis is serving a 10-year term for his 2002 conviction for conspiring
to grow marijuana. The sentence came after a stormy trial in which
Sacramento U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. instructed jurors
to disregard evidence of medical use under California's Proposition
215. However, recent federal court decisions have barred federal
prosecutors from going after medical marijuana operations that don't
involve interstate commerce. The Supreme Court is expected to announce
this month whether it will review one of those cases.

The possible implications for Epis were explored at Wednesday's
hearing by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals. There's no deadline for a decision.

"What's your good-faith factual basis for saying (Epis) was
cultivating marijuana primarily for commercial purposes?" Judge
Michael Daly Hawkins of Phoenix asked the prosecutor, Assistant U.S.
Attorney Samuel Wong. Wong answered that Epis' operation, unlike those
that have been given the courts' protection, was "a profit-making
enterprise." But he admitted under questioning from Hawkins that the
jury wasn't asked to decide whether Epis ran a commercial operation.

Wong contended the jury's finding that Epis conspired to grow more
than 1,000 plants indicated "there had to be a commercial aspect."

But Donald Lay, a visiting circuit judge from Minnesota, noted that
"only 458 plants" were seized when Epis' premises were raided. Lay
said the government's contention that more would be grown in the
future seemed "kind of tenuous."

Brenda Grantland, Epis' lawyer, called the Chico operation "a closed
system, limited to medical marijuana patients." But Judge Jay Bybee of
Las Vegas, the third member of the 9th Circuit panel, questioned her
closely about the amount of pot a medical user would require daily.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin