Federal jury acquits family on 4 of 5 pot charges in Washington state

Ryan Parker, Los Angeles Times

A marijuana-growing family in Washington state was acquitted Tuesday on most of the federal charges against them, but convicted of one count that reportedly could put them behind bars for five years.

Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 56, her son Rolland Gregg, 33, and daughter-in-law Michelle Gregg, 36, were convicted of growing no more than 100 marijuana plants on their 33-acre property northeast of Kettle Falls, according to a news release from Americans for Safe Access.

They face at least a five-year prison sentence under federal sentencing minimums, the Spokesman-Review reported.

The three will be sentenced June 10 but remain free until then, according to the news release. Another defendant in the group, dubbed the "Kettle Falls Five," took a plea deal. Charges were dismissed against a fifth defendant, who has cancer. 

Americans for Safe Access works to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic uses, according to its website.

The case was an indication of whether the federal government would pursue a criminal case involving marijuana in a state where it is legal for medical and recreational purposes.

"The jury saw through the deceit of the federal government and rightly acquitted on almost all charges," Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access said in the statement. "This should signal to the Department of Justice that prosecutions such as the Kettle Falls Five are a waste of time and money and, if anything, should be left to state courts."

Throughout the trial, the defense was not allowed to argue that some of the defendants had medical marijuana cards. Nor could the defense raise how public opinion on marijuana has substantially changed, and how that change has led some states to legalize the drug, the Spokesman-Review reported.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided the Harvey property and seized 68 marijuana plants in August 2012. In addition to the charge on which they were convicted, the family members were charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, manufacture and distribution of marijuana, maintaining a drug-involved premises and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, according to the release.

The federal government agreed to dismiss charges against Larry Harvey, 71, a codefendant who was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, according to the release. Codefendant and family friend Jason Zucker, 39, took a plea deal before the trial began in exchange for a felony conspiracy conviction and a recommended sentence of 16 months.

“It’s not a complete win,” said Firestack-Harvey’s attorney, Jeff Neisen, the Spokesman-Review reported. “But it’s the best we could have hoped for with a criminal conviction.”