kettle falls five
Medical Marijuana Policy

Jury Selection, Opening Statements Made In Rare Federal Medical Marijuana Trial

kettle falls fiveTrial began on Wednesday with jury selection and opening statements in a widely watched federal medical marijuana case against a family from eastern Washington State known as the Kettle Falls Five. Last week, amidst mounting pressure, the Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed charges against defendant Larry Harvey, 71, who was recently diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

Earlier this week, defendant and Harvey family friend Jason Zucker accepted a plea deal, whereby he agreed to cooperate with the prosecution by testifying against his co-defendants in exchange for a single felony conviction and a recommended sentence of 16 months.

Three defendants are now being tried, including Larry Harvey’s wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 56, her son Rolland Gregg, 33, and daughter-in-law Michelle Gregg, 36. Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, the government will prevent any evidence related to medical necessity or compliance with state law from being used by the defense.

The Harveys 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, charging the five 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.

The government called its first witness on Wednesday, Sgt. Brad Menke of the Stevens County Sheriff’s Department, who with the help of the DEA conducted the initial search of the Harvey property on August 9, 2012. Menke originally identified the garden from the air, citing his training at a “DEA-sponsored aerial marijuana-spotter school.” At the time, however, law enforcement cut down only two-dozen plants — leaving 44 still in the ground — bringing the family into clear-cut compliance with their understanding of state law.

On a second visit, approximately one week later, the DEA cut down all of the plants and then federally indicted the Kettle Falls Five defendants. In a cynical prosecutorial move, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is claiming that the Kettle Falls Five grew marijuana in previous years in order to charge them with cultivating more than 100 plants, triggering a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence. The government is also pursuing gun charges that carry an additional 5-year mandatory minimum despite the fact that the guns found on the Harveys’ property were used for hunting and protection from wild animals. As a result, each defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Advocates say that the Obama Administration is pursuing this case unnecessarily and in defiance of a recent Congressional measure banning the DOJ from interfering in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Earlier this month, defendants filed motions to dismiss based on this Congressional measure, which was denied by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice. The defendants have vowed to appeal after trial if convicted.

Trial will resume today in Room 902 of the Thomas S. Foley U.S. Courthouse, 920 West Riverside Avenue, Spokane, and will likely continue into early next week.

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  • Sarijuana

    I could never throw by friends or family under the bus like that, especially these days. All for one and one for all, I always say.

  • michiganman

    I cannot understand why this is moving forward. A sad day for democracy when a branch of the federal government ignores the president. Where are the DOJ handlers, all on board? I thought there would be no money for these prosecutions. What the hell is going on here!!!

    • Sinclair

      It’s because prohibition has always been about there job Security nothing but that.

  • Sinclair

    If the guns were legally registered and not used during any crime Then what the fu*k. Do our police and courts have nothing to do?
    Let them go already. I can not wait for this jury to say not guilty. Then and only then will justice be served.

  • Jordan Shorette

    DOJ should be ashamed along with this Jason zucker piece of work

  • Jason Zucker sold out his friends. May he rot.

    What would be justice is that his friends beat the rap and he winds up doing 16 months and with a record.

    • Jordan Shorette

      i second this

  • Cyndysub

    I would love to be the defence lawyer on this trial. I would argue in the case that the US Govt owns a Patent on Medicinal Marijuana, US patent #6630507 dated 2/2/2001 so any convictions after that date should be null and void because to be a schedule 1 drug it has to have no medical value. Alcohol and Tobacco however both fit that criteria

    • Cherokee

      I would argue that the IRS has received tax money from their grows, therefore charging the federal government with being part of a criminal enterprise by receiving illegally obtained tax dollars.

  • Nathaniel

    A real fight for medical rights, and people’s livelihood, in a federal court case is going to be very tense. I would like to know how many jurors have smoked weed before and how many had a bad experience as a result. Despite an excellent attempt by both prosecution and defense to vet these jurors during selection I am willing to bet one side has a decided advantage going in. Which side is it though? Do we know the demographics of said jurors? That would start to give us some indicator as to how this trial might go.

  • The federal government is not busting up a mafia operation here, yet it is geared to prosecuting medical patients in that same fashion. This entire model of federal prosecution stinks. It does not even vaguely resemble justice, nor does it allow for a defense or the concept of innocence until proven guilty.

    The entire Kettle Falls Five case cheapens our society down to the level of fast food injustice. This is a job of “railroading”.

    • michiganman

      I agree 1000%…..railroaded.

  • Scumboldt Assassin

    The feds have solid proof they were growing and selling to the black market, I worked for a similar group of so called growers in humboldt CA. Greed will make people do stupid things, I feel bad for these people because I feel nobody should ever be locked up for this plant. Claiming its all for the sick will not always work to protect you from the feds