Family who grow medical marijuana could spend up to 40 YEARS behind bars on possession and trafficking charges despite abiding by strict legal limits

Ted Thornhill, Mail Online

A family who grow medicinal marijuana face up to 40 years in jail after the federal government accused them of being armed drug traffickers.

The home of Larry Harvey, 70, and his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, near Kettle Falls, in Washington State, was raided by authorities in August 2012 after police were alerted to their marijuana plants by a Washington State Civil Air Patrol fly-by.

Seventy-four marijuana plants were found on the property, along with $700 in cash and legally owned firearms.

Following the raid, Mr Harvey and Mrs Firestack-Harvey – along with two other relatives and a friend - were charged with six felonies each, including manufacturing, possession and distribution of marijuana, and the possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors claim that the guns are evidence that the family was trafficking their crop.

If found guilty, the couple, along with their son, Rolland Gregg, 33, Gregg's wife Michelle, 35, and family friend Jason Zucker, 38, could receive jail sentences of up to 40 years each.

The couple claim that, along with their friends, they were growing the plants for their medicinal use in compliance with state law.

And they argue that the firearms are used for hunting and fishing and protection against the region’s various predators, such as bears and cougars.

It has been legal to use marijuana in Washington State since 1998, and to use it recreationally since 2012.

The law allows for a patient to grow up to 15 plants, but no more than 45 plants can be grown in one garden.

However, marijuana is still illegal in the U.S. under federal law – regardless of its intended use - and this has created an ‘equal justice disparity’, the family’s attorney said in a letter to the Attorney General, Eric Holder.

The family and Mr Zucker are being denied a medical marijuana defense at their trial, which takes place next week.

According to Huffington Post, U.S District Judge Fred Van Sickle, of the Eastern District of Washington, said: ‘The intent of the defendants is not relevant to the issues. There's this concept of reliance on state law and the like. That's not relevant either.’

The defendants’ attorney said: ‘All of the patients involved had a valid recommendation from a Washington state physician that authorizes the use of medical marijuana.

'The evidence seized is consistent with the type of strict medical dosage that occurs with a doctor’s supervision... If this case were tried in any other court of law with jurisdiction over this issue, we would be able to present a complete and provable defense that would inevitably lead to full exoneration of our clients.’

Americans for Safe Access, a group that campaigns for the medical use of marijuana, told MailOnline: 'The Obama Administration's prosecution of the Kettle Falls Five is outrageous not only for its cruel treatment of a family that was doing nothing more than growing marijuana for their personal medical use in accordance with state law, but also because the White House has repeatedly told the American public that it isn't interested in using Justice Department funds to go after individual, sick patients.'