U.S. Senate could vote as early as next week on measure to restrict DOJ funds for medical marijuana enforcement

Washington, D.C. -- Medical marijuana patient Larry Harvey, 70, has returned to Washington, D.C. this week to persuade the U.S. Senate to vote for an end to the type of Justice Department (DOJ) enforcement that has resulted in unnecessary federal prosecutions like his. Harvey is one of the "Kettle Falls 5," a federal medical marijuana case that is scheduled to go to trial on July 28th in Spokane, Washington. The Senate measure that Harvey is lobbying for is similar to the House budget amendment that won an historic 219-189 vote last week.

Advocates are working to secure the introduction of an amendment to the Senate Commerce, Justice & Science (CJS) appropriations bill when it gets marked up later this week in committee. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who comes from one of the 22 medical marijuana states, chairs the appropriations committee where the issue has the first chance to be heard in the Senate. If debate does not occur in committee, advocates have vowed to seek introduction of the amendment on the floor of the Senate, which is expected to vote on the appropriations bill later this month.

District Judge Fred Van Sickle allowed Harvey to modify the conditions of his release so he could travel to Washington, D.C. against "strong objections" from U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby, who said that such travel was unnecessary and warned that Harvey's statements to the media "could and probably would be used against him at trial."

"The U.S. Senate has an historic window of opportunity to take action on medical marijuana," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the medical marijuana patient advocacy group that brought Harvey to Washington, D.C. "The Obama Administration has already indicated a change to federal enforcement policy, and all we're asking the Democratically-controlled Senate to do is make that policy binding."

Despite repeated claims by the Obama Administration that it is not interested in targeting individual patients, the DOJ has spent more than $3 million so far to prosecute the "Kettle Falls 5," who are five patients growing less than 15 plants for personal use and in accordance with state law. The DOJ is seeking 10-year mandatory minimum sentences for each defendants and, if convicted, the agency could spend as much as $13 million to imprison them, despite repeated calls by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in recent months for mandatory minimum sentencing reform.

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, $700 in cash, their legally owned firearms, and other personal property.

"It's wrong what the federal government is doing to us," said medical marijuana patient and federal defendant Larry Harvey. "I just want to make sure Congress knows what's happening so they can fix the law and so there's no more money wasted on cases like mine."

With the budget amendment having already passed in the House, a compromise CJS budget bill would have to be hammered out in a House-Senate conference committee regardless of whether a similar amendment is approved in the Senate. The amendment would apply to DOJ funds allocated during FY2015.

Further information:
House CJS Amendment text: https://american-safe-access.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/CJS_Amedment_May_2014.pdf
Court briefs related to Harvey's trip to DC: https://american-safe-access.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/Harvey_Modify_Conditions_Briefing.pdf

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