In a bombshell statement, feds admit to illegally prosecuting medical marijuana patients. In this shocking admission, the Department of Justice has agreed with defense lawyers. They all say that the U.S. government should not have pursued federal charges against a family who grew medical marijuana.
The Kettle Falls Five
In 2012, the federal government raided the Harvey family’s farm. Five members of the family had been growing cannabis there for medical purposes. All had been following the guidelines and regulations of cultivating the plants, as laid out by the Washington State government.
Nevertheless, federal officers raided their farm and found 70 plants. They arrested and charged all five family members. The defendants became collectively known as the Kettle Falls Five, based on the region where they resided.
In 2015, the courts sentenced Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 59, to a year and a day in prison. 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. The familial trio have remained free as they appealed their sentences.
Larry Harvey, the family patriarch, unfortunately, passed away from cancer in 2015.
Additionally, the fifth defendant in the case, former family friend 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 filed late Monday, DOJ lawyers acknowledged 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.
Critics of the federal ban on marijuana blasted the DOJ. The criticism was for prosecuting state-registered medical marijuana growers and patients in a state where marijuana is legal.
Washington State was a forerunner of national legalization.
They legalized medical marijuana cultivation and usage in 1998 and recreational marijuana use in 2012. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws legalizing medical marijuana cultivation and usage. Similar laws exist in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and Guam.
“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
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, also occasionally referred to as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, is a federal marijuana provision that prohibits the DOJ from prosecuting medical marijuana operations that are legal under state laws.
This legislation was first introduced by United States Representative Maurice Hinchey and titular Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Sam Farr in 2003. It prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws. It passed the House in May 2014 after six previously failed attempts and became a law in December 2014 as part of an omnibus-spending bill.
The passage marked the first time the chamber of Congress voted in favor of protecting medical cannabis patients. Activists view it as a historic victory for cannabis reform advocates at the federal level. The amendment does not change the legal status of cannabis, however, and Congress must renew it each fiscal year in order to keep it in effect.
Lawmakers have consistently renewed it since it first passed in 2014.
In 2016, the ninth circuit appeals court ruled unanimously that the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment blocks federal officials from prosecuting state-legal marijuana operators and patients.
The DOJ lawyers cited that ruling in the brief filed on Monday.
“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,” the brief said.
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.
Final Hit: Feds Admit to Illegally Prosecuting Medical Marijuana Patients
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.