Five Washington state medical marijuana patients go to trial

Posted on April 21st, 2014 by Global Ganja Report and tagged , , , , , .

Family members from a rural area of eastern Washington state are to go to trial next month on federal marijuana charges, despite the Obama administration's repeated claims that it does not target seriously ill patients. The federal trial of the "Kettle Falls 5" is scheduled for May 12, pending several pretrial motions which will be heard on April 22 before US District Judge Fred Van Sickle in Spokane, Wash. Because of marijuana's illegal status under federal law, patients like the "Kettle Falls 5" are typically prohibited from raising a medical necessity or state law defense in federal court..

Federal agents raided the property of Larry Harvey, 70, and his wife, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, at their rural family home near Kettle Falls, Washington in August 2012. In addition to seizing 44 premature marijuana plants, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confiscated the family's 2007 Saturn Vue, $700 in cash, medicated cookies and marijuana stored in the family freezer, along with legally owned firearms.

The five defendants, including Firestack-Harvey's son, Rolland Gregg, and daughter-in-law, were all qualified patients under Washington state law. Defense attorneys say the cannabis being cultivated on a remote corner of the family's 33-acre property was strictly for personal use. Nevertheless, Harvey, who suffers from numerous ailments including heart disease and severe gout, was jailed for several days and denied medical attention, which resulted in irreversible bodily harm.

The federal trial comes after two Department of Justice (DOJ) directives were issued in June 2011 and August 2013, both of which underscore that individual patients are excluded from the agency's enforcement strategy. In the latest memorandum, Deputy US Attorney General James Cole claimed that it was "not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals." However, shortly before the raid on the Harvey home, U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Washington Michael Ormsby stated his intent to "vigorously" target individuals "even if such activities are permitted under state law."

"This case is another glaring example of what's wrong with the federal policy on cannabis," said Kari Boiter, a supporter of the "Kettle Falls 5" and the Washington state coordinator with Americans for Safe Access. "If the Justice Department can continue to aggressively prosecute individual patients without any consequences from the White House, none of these DOJ memos are worth the paper they're printed on."

Notably, these federal prosecutions of individual patients continue even after Washington voters approved Initiative 502 in November 2012, legalizing recreational use of cannabis in the state. Nevertheless, the "Kettle Falls 5" were indicted in February 2013 and charged with six felonies each: conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, manufacture of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and maintaining a drug-involved premises. As part of a joint defense agreement, attorneys sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder in February, asking him to reconsider prosecution of the "Kettle Falls 5."

Despite the modest number of plants seized at the time of the 2012 raid, federal prosecutors allege that the Harvey family grew similar-sized crops in previous years. This theory is being used by the US Attorney's office to combine annual harvests over the course of several years to charge the defendants with growing more than the 100-plant threshold, triggering a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. The gun charge carries an additional five-year mandatory minimum. Prosecutors are seeking a minimum of 10 years to life in prison, despite repeated calls by Holder in recent months for mandatory minimum sentencing reform for non-violent drug crimes in particular. (ASA, April 21)

Graphic: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection



Feds drop charges against cancer-stricken defendant

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Days before trial is scheduled to start in a widely watched federal medical marijuana case, the government dismissed charges yesterday against Larry Harvey, 71, a defendant recently diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Harvey has been prosecuted for more than two years as part of the so-called "Kettle Falls Five" case, along with other members of his family, who will still be tried by the government. (ASA, Feb. 19)

Comment by Global Ganja Report on Feb 21st, 2015 at 5:10 am

Defendants acquitted of most charges in Kettle Falls case

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In an unexpected verdict March 3, the jury in the Kettle Falls Five case acquitted the three remaining defendants of all but one charge of manufacturing less than 100 marijuana plants. The charge carries no mandatory minimum sentence and defendants Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 56, her son Rolland Gregg, 33, and daughter-in-law Michelle Gregg, 36, remain free until sentencing on June 10. (ASA)

Comment by Global Ganja Report on Mar 4th, 2015 at 1:10 am

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