“The Drug War isn’t over. Medical marijuana growers across Washington are still in the DEA’s cross-hairs.”
by Heidi Groover, The Inlander
“Seventy-year-old Larry Harvey can’t tell the truth. At least not the whole truth. Not the part about his gout, his wife’s degenerative disc disease and carpal tunnel, her daughter-in-law’s uncontrolled weight loss and the neck and back injuries of her son and a family friend. No, the retired truck driver who shares a double-wide with his wife in the woods north of Colville can’t say why he started growing medical marijuana. He can’t even say the words “medical marijuana.”
It just won’t be allowed at the federal trial in Spokane set for December that could put Harvey and his family, the so-called “Kettle Falls Five,” behind bars for a long time.
Indeed, the War on Drugs rages on: While Washington state may have legalized medical marijuana in 1998 and licensed recreational pot stores earlier this year, in the eyes of federal prosecutors there’s still no such thing as legal pot and certainly nothing so benign sounding as “medical marijuana.”
In deciding that the Harveys couldn’t talk at trial about the medical benefits of pot or their compliance with state law, a federal judge said that “could tempt the jury to disregard federal law.”
“One question I have: Where are we?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks asked in a hearing on the case in April. “I think we’re in federal court. And that’s very important because federal law says you can’t have these grows. … You can be prosecuted for two marijuana plants, if you’re growing them, in federal court. We don’t do it, but you could be. And that’s the law.”
Until recently — when the state’s first recreational growers were licensed — people cultivating marijuana in Washington generally did so under the flag of medicine, and it is those people, like the Harveys, who have fallen into the feds’ crosshairs. And should any of them be found in possession of a firearm, as was the case with the Harveys, the federal government will spare almost no effort in laying down the law.
Some attorneys argue that defendants should be allowed to testify about their medical use of marijuana; the judge could then instruct the jury to ignore it in their decision. Otherwise, “you’re forcing the defendant to lie,” says Seattle defense attorney Doug Hiatt. “When you cannot tell the truth, you cannot get justice.
“There’s a meme out there [that marijuana is legal in Washington],” Hiatt adds, “and the meme is full of shit.”
On a hot August morning as Harvey’s wife, Rhonda, put on her eyeliner to go float the Kettle River with friends, Stevens County Sheriff’s deputies fanned out around the house and pounded on the sliding glass door. Over the course of a few hours, they took 29 of the family’s 74 bushy indica plants, bringing the count down to the state-allowed 45 per medical collective. Rhonda, who is 56, remembers asking them when they left, “What’s going to happen now?” and an officer telling her, “With the way the laws are changing, we’re not really sure.”
A week later, they were back — the same officers, she says, now in Drug Enforcement Agency gear — and it was a different story. They pulled the remaining plants from the ground and took, among other things, the Harveys’ three guns, computer, two motorcycles and $700 out of Rhonda’s panty drawer.
Then nothing for six months. It was February 2013 when, while Rhonda visited family in Alaska, a U.S. Marshal rolled up the driveway and gave Larry Harvey five minutes to “shut the coffee pot off and feed the dogs” before taking him to the Spokane County jail. Warrants were out for Rhonda and the other three.
Since then, the trial has been repeatedly postponed. Federal Judge Fred Van Sickle said the last time he granted a new trial date that this one, scheduled to begin Dec. 1, would come “hell or high water.” All five defendants face charges for growing and distributing 100 or more plants, triggering five-year, mandatory-minimum prison sentences if they’re found guilty. (While court documents reference 74 plants, those familiar with the case say prosecutors plan to argue that photos found on the family’s computer show they once had more.) They’re also charged with possessing the guns, which prosecutors contend they were using “in furtherance of” the drug crime. That brings their minimum sentence, if convicted, to at least 10 years.
“I really think, a guy like me, they throw me in prison and I’m done,” says Larry, who describes how his gout worsened during his short stint in jail after his arrest. The new medicine he’s been given for it, he says, has caused diabetes. Together, the two conditions require a strict diet and close medical watch. “If they put me in prison, it’s a life sentence for me.”
In the ongoing national discussion of how we should think about marijuana, cases like this have, for some, become evidence of the way the federal government ignores the will of the citizens while costing them money. At a cost of about $29,000 per federal prison inmate per year, the price of putting the Kettle Falls Five away for 10 years could total $1.45 million.
“It’s fundamentally unfair what the government is doing,” says Greg Scott, a Yakima defense attorney who has worked on marijuana cases in federal court. “This really should be left alone. It’s a state issue; let the states deal with it. Don’t be coming in just because you don’t like the law to find a way to punish people.”
Read rest of article By Heidi Groover on Inlander
Source: “The Kettle Falls Five – Prisoners of War” by Heidi Groover, The Inlander 10.29.14
Reposted CannabisConsumerResearch.com 12.11.14
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