Another iconic representative of the cannabis community, Charles Edward “Eddy” Lepp, has passed away after a battle with cancer.
Lepp’s wife, Sandra Castaneda, posted on Facebook about the tragic news on August 16. “This morning at 2:00am my husband Charles EdwardLepp aka OG Eddy Lepp passed away in his sleep.”
On June 6, Eddy posted one of his last updates on Instagram at @OG_EddyLepp regarding the status of his health. “Hi everybody, it’s been a while since I said anything so I thought I’d shoot out a little update. I have cancer of the bone now. And it’s pretty rampant from my chest to my toes. And we’re gonna have to change therapies to try to win this battle. But uh, I got at least a couple three more months and maybe a couple years, so keep them cards and letters coming, keep buying that art…I love you all and thank you so much for giving me a reason to live.” Since the news broke of his passing, thousands of fans have been leaving notes to his memory.
Lepp served in the U.S. Army’s military intelligence unit in the Vietnam War from 1969–1972, and shortly after, became a lifelong fighter for cannabis rights.
Eddy Lepp: A True Cannabis Crusader
Lepp was one of the industry’s greatest advocates, leaving his mark as one of many who suffered in prison as a result of trying to cultivate medical cannabis and help patients get access. He owned and operated Eddy’s Medicinal Gardens and Multi-Denominational Chapel of Cannabis and Rastafari, which was raided by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials on August 18, 2004—the 17th anniversary of which is just days away.
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.
According to an article High Times wrote in our October/November 2004 issue, Lepp was growing cannabis under the support of Proposition 215, which was passed by California voters in November 1996. Patients would make a donation of $500 for each plant they were growing (a maximum of six). “We will not take money for marijuana. Every penny of that $500 goes specifically to caring for the plant,” Lepp told High Times.
On the day of the raid, 14 “residents and volunteers” were taken into custody, but only Lepp was arrested. He was eventually given federal charges for cannabis possession, with “intent to distribute, conspiracy and establishing a marijuana-manufacturing operation.”
“I’m not doing anything illegal. If the federal government has a problem with California law, then they should be having the state of California in court, not me. I’m facing life in prison for obeying the law,” he also shared. Lepp fought hard in court, pleading not guilty, stating that not only was he legally growing under state law, but that he was a practicing Rastafarian.
Sadly, the defense wasn’t enough. Lepp received a 10-year prison sentence in September 2009 at age 56. The presiding U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel even seemed to suggest her hesitance to convict Lepp based on current laws. “I think that amount of time is excessive, but it’s not up to me,” she said in court. Ultimately he spent eight-and-a-half years in prison before being released.
Remembered for His Greatness
In 2017, Lepp was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by High Times who not only operated one of the “Greatest Marijuana Gardens of All Time,” but continually fought for his right to grow the plant, and for other people’s rights to consume it.
Beyond being an active cannabis pioneer and activist, Lepp was renowned for his work as a multidisciplinary creator as an author, poet and artist. Not to the surprise of those who knew him, his creations featured colorful depictions of cannabis plants in full bloom, as well as large-scale joints and other cannabis-related elements, many of which were brought to another level of wonder by incorporating layers of colorful glitter. You can check out his works through the Facebook page created directly to display his art, while prints and other merchandise that were adorned with his colorful designs are sold through an online store.
Lepp was a respected member of our community, a friend to medical cannabis patients everywhere, a creator and overall an inspiration who will be sorely missed.