In an unexpected verdict today, the jury in a widely watched federal medical marijuana case from eastern Washington State, known as the Kettle Falls Five, acquitted the three remaining defendants of all but one charge of manufacturing less than 100 marijuana plants. The charge carries no mandatory minimum sentence and defendants Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 56, her son Rolland Gregg, 33, and daughter-in-law Michelle Gregg, 36, remain free until sentencing on June 10th at 10am.
In a prosecution and week-long trial that used up roughly $2 million, the Obama Administration aggressively pursued marijuana trafficking charges against a family of patients who claimed to have been growing for themselves in full compliance with Washington State’s medical marijuana law. The Department of Justice (DOJ) also chose to try them in defiance of a recent Congressional ban on DOJ interference in the implementation of state law.
Before the trial even began, the federal government agreed to dismiss charges against Larry Harvey, 71, a co-defendant who was recently diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, but the DOJ fought against the dismissal of charges against the remaining defendants. Co-defendant and family friend Jason Zucker, 39, took a plea deal one day before trial began and agreed to testify for the government against the three remaining defendants in exchange for a felony conspiracy conviction and a recommended sentence of 16 months.
“The jury saw through the deceit of the federal government and rightly acquitted on almost all charges,” said Kris Hermes, spokesperson with Americans for Safe Access. “This should signal to the Department of Justice that prosecutions such as the Kettle Falls Five are a waste of time and money and, if anything, should be left to state courts.” Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, the government exercised its prosecutorial discretion to exclude all evidence from trial related to medical necessity and compliance with state law.
In August 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the Harvey property in rural Washington State near the town of Kettle Falls and seized 68 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 firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
In a cynical prosecutorial move by the DOJ to aggregate multiple years of alleged cultivation in order to charge the defendants with more than 100 plants, carrying a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence for each of them. However, the jury rejected the government’s argument and found them guilty of cultivating less than 100 plants, which carries no mandatory minimum sentence. The government also sought gun charges that carry another 5-year mandatory minimum despite the fact that the guns found on the Harvey property were used for hunting and protection from wild animals. Each defendant was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.