Days before trial is scheduled to start in a widely watched federal medical marijuana case, the government dismissed charges yesterday against Larry Harvey, 71, a defendant recently diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Harvey has been prosecuted for more than two years as part of the so-called "Kettle Falls Five" case, along with other members of his family, who will still be tried by the government as early 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," said Larry Harvey in a prepared statement. "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. My wife, Rhonda, is my sole caregiver. She cooks meals for me and makes sure I take all my medicines on time. She's even been using our tractor to do all of the property upkeep herself, since I am too sick to do it anymore. If Rhonda goes to prison, I don't know who will take care of me. I will probably have to leave our home for good and move into a nursing facility. I thought the law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama was supposed to stop the DOJ from prosecuting my family, but so far, there's been little relief."
A motion to dismiss charges against the Kettle Falls Five based on a Congressional measure that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws was recently denied. The remaining defendants say they will file an interlocutory appeal and attempt to stay the trial while the appeal is considered by the Ninth Circuit.
"Federal prosecutors in this case are hell bent on pursuing these defendants to the ends of the Earth," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. "Congress and the President have spoken clearly on this issue, but the DOJ apparently isn't willing to listen."
Currently, the Kettle Falls Five trial is expected to begin on Monday, February 23rd, but could be rescheduled to later in the week due to the busy trial schedule of Judge Thomas O. Rice, the Spokane federal judge overseeing the case. The trial could also be further delayed if a stay is granted based on the interlocutory appeal of the motion to dismiss.
The Kettle Falls Five is made up of mostly family members, including Harvey, his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 56, her son Rolland Gregg, 33, daughter-in-law Michelle Gregg, 36, and friend of the family Jason Zucker, 39. Larry and Rhonda 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 firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Each defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The imminent trial against the Kettle Falls Five comes just two months after President Obama signed the so-called "Cromnibus" spending bill, which included Section 538, an historic rider that prohibits DOJ funds from being spent to block implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Advocates andsome Members of Congress argue that federal prosecutions like that of the Kettle Falls Five run contrary to the spirit and letter of the law now in effect.