Kettle Falls Five marijuana case pits federal laws against state laws

Ian Cull, KXLY News Spokane

The fight over medical marijuana grows has landed in Spokane's federal court. Five people from Kettle Falls face up to 40 years in prison and another faces life, for something they say is legal in Washington.

The case started when federal agents raided the home of Larry and Rhonda Harvey in Kettle Falls in 2012. Inside, they found marijuana plants and a gun. The indictment states more than 100 plants were found.

"We were growing a few pot plants up there just for our own consumption and along comes the law," defendant Larry Harvey said. 

Harvey says he grew the plants for severe pain. Now Harvey and his wife Rhonda, his stepson and his wife, and a family friend are facing five federal marijuana related charges and a weapons charge. Each claim they had a medical marijuana card from a doctor. 

"We thought we were legal, as far as the state is concerned we were legal," Harvey said. "But the federal, we didn't understand that at all." 

In Washington, medical marijuana patients sometimes grow their own marijuana. If they're caught, the state allows them to say in court the plants are for medical purposes. Lately, the courts have sided with the defendant. 

However, this case is in federal court and the feds say marijuana is still illegal.

It's why national non-profits that focus on medical marijuana policy like Americans for Safe Access are stepping in to help. 

"There was no sales here, there was no store fronts, there was no for-profit enterprise happening," said Kari Boiter, the Washington representative for Americans for Safe Access. 

Defense lawyers also point to a memo from the Department of Justice asking federal agents to focus their efforts on drug traffickers, and not the medical marijuana community. 

"I'm here just to make sure people really know that the federal government is doing the exact opposite of what say," Boiter said. "They say they are not prosecuting individual patients and the reality here, we can see, is that they are." 

Prosecutors denied our request for an interview saying they can't comment on ongoing cases. The trial is scheduled to begin on May 12th. 

Some marijuana advocates worry if the five are convicted, the federal government will work to shut down state licensed grows for the recreational marijuana market.