Sacramento (CA) Bee, Aug. 7, 2004
By Claire Cooper -- Bee Legal Affairs Writer
SAN FRANCISCO - A federal judge in Sacramento was ordered Friday to release Bryan James Epis from prison while the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the fate of state-sanctioned medical marijuana cooperatives that operate wholly within California.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. to set bail terms for the co-founder of Chico Medical Marijuana Caregivers and to handle the proceedings on an expedited basis.
Through his lawyer, Brenda Grantland, Epis said he was ecstatic. He thanked "literally thousands" of supporters.
Epis has been serving a 10-year term at the federal prison at Terminal Island outside Los Angeles since his 2002 conviction on federal marijuana conspiracy charges. Damrell instructed jurors to disregard evidence of medical use sanctioned by California's medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215.
While Epis' appeal of his conviction to the 9th Circuit was pending, that court ruled in a separate case from Oakland that federal authorities have no power to go after noncommericial medical marijuana operations confined within the state. Epis' appeal raises the same issue.
The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled a review of the Oakland decision during its next term. If it agrees with the 9th Circuit, Epis said Friday that he will be permitted "at a minimum" to present a full medical defense to a new jury.
Last month, the 9th Circuit issued an order putting Epis' case on hold, pending the high court's decision. The 9th Circuit's bail order Friday came in the form of a one-sentence amendment.
The U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento said it had not reviewed the 9th Circuit's new order and therefore could not comment. The federal prosecutor argued in court that Epis' conviction for growing more than 1,000 marijuana plants indicated commercial involvement.
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