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Political Analyst – Derek Thomas
This week the feds admitted to illegally prosecuting medical marijuana patients. The Department of Justice has agreed with defense lawyers that the U.S. government should not have pursued federal charges against a family who grew medical marijuana.
It began when the Harvey family’s farm was raided by federal agents in 2012. Five members of the family had been growing cannabis there for medical purposes. The agents found 70 plants. The family was following the guidelines and regulations of cultivating the plants according to the state of Washington.
Nevertheless, they arrested and charged all five family members. The defendants became collectively known as the Kettle Falls Five.
The courts sentenced Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 59, to a year and a day in prison in 2015. Her son, Rolland Gregg, 35, got a 33-month prison sentence. Gregg’s now ex-wife, Michelle Gregg, 38, was sentenced to a year and a day. The courts also sentenced all of them to three years of probation. Thankfully the trio have remained free as they appealed their sentences.
Larry Harvey, the fourth defendant and family patriarch, unfortunately, passed away from cancer in 2015. The fifth defendant in the case, a former family friend named Jason Zucker, took a plea deal. He had to testify against the remaining three defendants.
This week, reports said that the feds admit to illegally prosecuting medical marijuana patients known as the Kettle Falls Five. The DOJ further admitted the accused had complied with state law.
In a brief filled on Monday, DOJ lawyers admitted that the department “was not authorized to spend money on the prosecution of the defendants after December of 2014 because the defendants strictly complied with the Washington State medical marijuana laws.”
The case received national attention.
“This case has turned the justice system completely on its head,” said Kari Boiter, a spokeswoman for the Kettle Falls Five. “Here we have prosecutors admitting that it’s the DOJ who is breaking federal law, not the other way around.”
All defendants maintained that the marijuana plants on the premises complied with state law. And that the plants were for their own medicinal use.
The five originally faced charges of distribution of marijuana, conspiracy to distribute and a violation of firearm laws—all of which carried harsh prison sentences. Prosecutors dropped the charges against Harvey because of his terminal illness, and Zucker took his plea deal early on.
In 2015, a jury cleared the three remaining defendants of all the charges except illegal cultivation of marijuana.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment is a federal marijuana provision that prohibits the DOJ from prosecuting medical marijuana operations that are legal under state laws.
Lawmakers have consistently renewed it since it first passed in 2014.
The brief filed in regards to the Kettle Falls Five notes that “This court determined that Rohrabacher-Farr prohibits the Department of Justice from spending funds for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the state medical marijuana laws and fully complied with the laws.”
That prohibition, the lawyers said, extends to the expenditure of DOJ funds even if the prosecution was properly initiated prior to the enactment of the Rohrabacher-Farr provision, the brief said.
Despite the fact that the feds admit to illegally prosecuting medical marijuana patients, the brief did not recommend dropping the charges.
Instead, it urged that a federal district court take over further proceedings in the case. Furthermore, lawyers for the family will likely attempt to get their case dismissed.
“Let’s not forget that Larry Harvey gave his life fighting for his family’s freedom—and spent his final months on Earth working to pass the federal law that is cited in the prosecutors’ new motion,” Boiter said. “The federal government can’t give Larry back, but they can start to right this wrong, by fully exonerating the surviving defendants, once and for all.”
Another takeaway? Since the feds admit to illegally prosecuting medical marijuana patients, it sets a precedent for justice for the rest of the country.