Spokane, WA- Despite a significant rider within the 2014 “cromnibus” federal spending bill that prevents the Department Of Justice from undermining state laws regarding medical marijuana, five people from Washington known as the “Kettle Falls Five” face trial next Monday for growing marijuana plants in accordance with state law.
The Kettle Falls Five are Larry Harvey; Larry’s wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey; Rhonda’s son Rolland Gregg and Rolland’s wife Michelle Gregg; and close family friend Jason Zucker. The five are all medical marijuana patients in the state of Washington, and were growing marijuana plants on the Harvey’s rural Stevens County property. As of August 2012 they had 68 plants before the property was visited by law enforcement agents presenting a state warrant and informing Rhonda Firestack-Harvey that their growing collective contained more plants than allowed by the state’s Medical Use of Cannabis Act.
While state law allows an individual to grow up to 15 plants, agents claimed the law allows just 45 plants in total for a growing collective, so the agents seized 23 of the plants on the Harvey property to “put them in compliance” with state law. The agents also took the Harvey’s hunting rifles, $700 in cash and an all-terrain vehicle. Days later, federal agents came to the property to seize the remaining plants.
Ben Swann spoke with Rolland Gregg, and Gregg noted the state law’s ambiguity regarding collective growing. Gregg also described the initial visit from the state and the subsequent federal raid, and the legal burdens that have ensued since the raid:
Gregg explained the group’s commitment to adhering to state law, and said that they had been purchasing medical marijuana from dispensaries before deciding that growing marijuana was a more practical and cost-effective way of securing relief for their ailments:
The five were later charged 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. Federal authorities claim that the Kettle Falls Five violated Washington state law, although the five are facing federal charges rather than state charges.
Gregg told Swann that they grew plants on the Harvey’s property to “pool resources”, much like the way a dispensary operates. Gregg said that there is no real state-level registration as a collective and the marijuana they grew was used only by the five of them:
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice declined a motion dismiss the charges against the Kettle Falls Five. Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks claimed that the five had too many plants for their own use and were operating an illegal for-profit business. Gregg said that they have been urged to take various plea deals, but have rejected the offers because they have maintained that their growing operation was legal. The trial for the Kettle Falls Five begins on February 23rd. They face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted.
UPDATE, February 20th, 11:36 a.m. EST: According to court documents, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice dropped the charges against Larry Harvey due to Harvey’s deteriorating health. Harvey, 71, has stage 4 pancreatic cancer that has begun to spread to his liver.