By Mary Ought Six

Eddy Lepp stands alone in the marijuana world. Admirers point to his 25-acre medical-pot farm in Northern California (the largest of its kind in the world), his title as the 2004 HIGH TIMES Freedom Fighter of the Year and his work as the spiritual leader of Eddy’s Medicinal Gardens and Multi-Denominational Ministry of Cannabis and Rastafari. Critics (including the federal government), however, paint an unflattering portrait of a flashy profiteer who is out for himself. Currently, the 53-year-old Vietnam vet in the center of this cannabis crossfire is out on bail, facing the possibility of four life sentences plus 40 years and over $17 million in fines. All for the love of ganja?

Located in the middle of Eddy Lepp’s massive house, its walls painted shades of hot pink and bedecked with various knickknacks from his travels, the master bedroom was once the throbbing heart of this enterprise—one of the only finished rooms in the entire 10,000-square-foot structure. Due to current court orders, Lepp is unable to smoke pot during our interview, so with tobacco cigarette in hand, he arranges some of his keepsakes before opening with a steady flow of curses against the DEA. “Goddamn sons-of-bitches....”

After this purging, he settles down and smiles wider than a Cheshire cat. “Do I speak directly into the microphone?”

As always, Lepp is pleased as punch to be interviewed. He enjoys being listened to, and respected, as the big-time ganja guru of an organization that was once home to thousands of medical-marijuana plants and from 15 to 30 nomadic cannabis cultivators at a time. In August 2004, the Feds came in and massacred 32,524 pot plants—a number that doesn’t include those that flew off the top of their open-air evidence wagons while being driven away down California Highway 20. Lepp was arrested that day, then quickly released on bail. The ministry tried to rebuild. But in February, the DEA, Lake County Narcotic Task Force and local law enforcement raided the garden again, seizing over 6,000 plants and taking Lepp into custody for over two months. He was again released on bail in April and came home not to a bustling ministry but to only his self-proclaimed “chosen family,” including his wife, Linda Senti, and his personal assistant. The ministry is now a quiet place. Lepp’s assistant spends his time writing press releases and rallying support; Senti tries to keep her husband focused on his legal case, which now combines the 2004 and 2005 raids, and on the couple’s financial problems: Eddy’s Medicinal Gardens, once estimated by the DEA to be home to over $80 million worth of marijuana, has gone flat broke.