CA NORML News
Epis was arrested in June 1997 while growing 458 small indoor plants at his home in Chico for himself and other Prop.215 patients. At his trial, Epis testified that he and three or four other patients were sharing the crop for personal medical use, with the excess to be allocated to a patient dispensary.
His testimony was corroborated by a former partner, David Kasakove, who said that Epis thought he was acting legally and wanted to help other patients. However, U.S. attorney Samuel Wong portrayed Epis as a profiteer, based on rough notes in which he projected prices and revenues from marijuana sales.
Under federal rules of evidence, testimony about medical use of marijuana and Prop. 215 was rigorously excluded by Judge Frank Damrell. Nonetheless, witnesses and attorneys managed to slip in testimony about "dispensaries," "patients," etc., until by the end of the trial it was clear that Epis was growing for medical purposes.
The jury was firmly instructed to disregard the medical circumstances and duly proceeded to convict him not only for cultivating over 100 plants, but also conspiring to cultivate over 1,000 plants, a charge which carries a ten-year mandatory minimum.
Epis was ineligible for a "safety valve" exemption from the mandatory minimum because his home was within 1,000 feet of a school.
Epis, 35, has a wife, an eight-year-old daughter, and a successful internet business. He has no prior criminal convictions.
Judge Damrell refused to release Epis on bail pending appeal. His attorney, Tony Serra, argues that Epis was denied due process of law since the law was unclear at the time of his arrest, and he had reason to believe that he was acting legally. At the time of Episí arrest, Dennis Peronís cannabis club had been given the legal go-ahead by Judge David Garcia to operate in San Francisco, and it was widely assumed that clubs were legal under Prop. 215.
Episí case has become a national cause celebre for the medical marijuana movement, which has rallied to his support. In Washington, DC, two dozen drug reform activists protested his sentencing at the White House, four of whom were arrested for chaining themselves to the gates.