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Spokane, WA -- Family members from a rural area of eastern Washington are expected 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 12th, pending several pretrial motions which will be heard on April 22nd before U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle in Spokane, Washington. 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.
What: Pretrial hearing in the federal prosecution of the "Kettle Falls 5," five medical marijuana patients from Washington State
When: Tuesday, April 22nd at 1:30pm (the hearing was rescheduled from 2:30 to 1:30pm)
Where: Courtroom of Judge Van Sickle, Thomas S. Foley U.S. Courthouse, 920 West Riverside Ave, Spokane, WA 99201
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, along with their legally owned firearms.
The five federal defendants, including Mrs. Firestack-Harvey’s son, Rolland Gregg, and daughter-in-law, were all qualified patients in compliance with 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, Mr. 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 imminent and rare 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 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." 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, the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "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 marijuana 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 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 U.S. 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 sentence. Prosecutors are seeking a minimum 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.
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