Associated Press

The Justice Department has dropped its case against a 71-year-old man charged in a northeastern Washington marijuana bust because he was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Larry Harvey faced federal charges — as did his wife, two other relatives and a family friend — after they were caught two years ago growing about 70 pot plants on their rural, mountainous property near Kettle Falls. Harvey said he used the marijuana to ease pain from gout, but the government argued that the family's operation did not comply with the state's medical marijuana law, and marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The government dropped its charges against Harvey on Wednesday, citing his serious illness, but the charges remain against the others. They could face trial as soon as next week.

"I'm thankful the charges against me have been dropped so that I can focus on my battle with Stage IV pancreatic cancer," Harvey said in a written statement issued Thursday by Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. "However, if the Department of Justice truly has concerns for my well-being, it will dismiss the case against my entire family. We have suffered long enough."

He described his wife, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, as his sole caregiver and said she has been cooking for him, making sure he takes his medicine, and using a tractor to do all of the upkeep on their land.

The case has drawn wide attention in a state where the recreational use of pot is legal, and it has outraged medical marijuana advocates because the defendants face at least 10 years in prison. Harvey had no criminal history, but there were guns in the home, which is part of the reason for the possible long prison term. The family says the weapons were for hunting and protection, but prosecutors say two of the guns were loaded and in the same room as a blue plastic tub of pot.

The DOJ has said since 2009 that prosecuting marijuana patients isn't a priority. It's allowing states to regulate marijuana for recreational or medical use, but it has reserved the right to target operations that don't follow state law or have ties to organized crime.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice declined early this month to dismiss the charges against the defendants. Defense attorneys argued that Congress recently banned federal funds from being used to prevent states from implementing their own laws on medical marijuana, but the judge said prosecutors had offered evidence the family was running a for-profit pot business.