Federal Medical Marijuana Defendant, Members of Congress Hold Press Conference at the Capitol Wednesday at 9am Speakers discuss upcoming Congressional vote to restrict DOJ enforcement against medical marijuana patients like the "Kettle Falls 5"

May 06, 2014 | Kris Hermes

Washington, D.C. -- Medical marijuana patient Larry Harvey, 70, who will be tried in federal court next week in Spokane, Washington, is speaking out on Capitol Hill about his prosecution. Harvey will be joined by a bipartisan group of Congressional Representatives including Paul Broun (R-GA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Sam Farr (D-CA), and Americans for Safe Access (ASA) Executive Director Steph Sherer for a press conference on Wednesday, May 7th at at 9am to discuss Harvey's case and the "Kettle Falls 5," as well as an upcoming Congressional action aimed at ending these types of federal medical marijuana prosecutions.

Despite repeated claims by the Obama Administration that it is not targeting individual patients, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has spent more than $3 million so far to prosecute five patients who were growing medical marijuana for personal use in accordance with state law. If convicted, the DOJ could spend as much as $13 million to send them to prison.

What: Press conference with federal defendant Larry Harvey, Congressional Reps Broun (R-GA), Blumenauer (D-OR), and Farr (D-CA), ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer
When: Wednesday, May 7th at 9am
Where: Elm Tree Site, Southeast corner of grounds of Capitol Building, near 1st St. SE, between E. Capitol St. NE and Independence Ave SE, Washington, D.C.

The "Kettle Falls 5" is made up of mostly family members, including Harvey, his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, her son Rolland Gregg, 33, daughter-in-law Michelle Gregg, 35, and friend of the family Jason Zucker, 38. All five are legal patients with serious medical conditions. Larry and Rhonda are retired and have a home in rural Washington State near the town of Kettle Falls. In August 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the property and seized 44 premature marijuana plants. Federal agents also confiscated the family's 2007 Saturn Vue, $700 in cash, their legally owned firearms, and other personal property.

Later this week, Congress is expected to mark up the House appropriations bill, after which an amendment will be introduced to prohibit DOJ from spending funds on medical marijuana enforcement. Just last week, more Members of Congress voted in favor of medical marijuana policy reform than ever before. The historic 222-195 vote, which ultimately denied veterans' physicians the right to recommend marijuana to their patients, saw an increase of more than two-dozen Members of Congress since the last vote on medical marijuana, including 22 Republicans and a strong majority of freshman Members.

Next week's 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 should be excluded from the agency's enforcement strategy. In the latest memorandum, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole claimed that it was "not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals." 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.

Despite an evolving political climate on medical marijuana, prosecutors are seeking mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years to life in prison, despite repeated calls by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in recent months for mandatory minimum sentencing reform for non-violent drug crimes in particular. The jury trial will be heard by U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle in Spokane. 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, although motions are being heard on this issue tomorrow.

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