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Four Medical Marijuana Patients From the State of Washington are Going Off to Jail

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    Despite all the talk of legalization in Washington State, despite the fact that the law went into place more than two years ago, and despite the reality that even mainstream political figures like Hillary Clinton vocally support medical marijuana, the Feds still sometimes go after growers in our state. Even growers who have doctors' recommendations for marijuana use.

    I went to Spokane less than a year ago to watch the federal trial of a family of marijuana growers in Eastern Washington. They were called the Kettle Falls Five in the media, although by the end of the trial, one was sick with cancer and the charges against him had been dropped, and another had turned on his codefendants.

    The case was shocking: Four members of a family and one family friend had been growing just 74 plants the summer they were raided. State law allows 15 plants per medical marijuana patient—5 times 15 equals 75—but that same state law allows only 45 plants in a collective. Federal law doesn't allow any marijuana—medical or otherwise.

    Because of that, the family couldn't discuss their medical use of marijuana during the trial because there is no such thing under federal law. Advocates in the room wearing T-shirts and pins with messages about medical cannabis were told to remove them. The two sides had to make their case under federal law, giving the Feds a significant advantage. According to the federal government, marijuana is still considered more dangerous than meth.

    The charges were dramatic: growing and distributing marijuana and possessing guns in "furtherance of a drug trafficking crime." The family lived in rural Washington, where guns are commonplace. As the trial neared, charges were dropped against the patriarch of the family, Larry Harvey, who was diagnosed with cancer (and has since died). The family friend, Jason Zucker, took a last-minute plea deal and testified against the others. Harvey's wife, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, and her son and daughter-in-law, Rolland and Michelle Gregg, remained.

    When a jury found them guilty of growing fewer than 100 plants, the family, their lawyers, and the advocates who'd brought their case into the national media consciousness knew it was probably the best they could have hoped for. The Feds had tried to use photographic evidence to suggest they'd grown more than 100 plants over two years, but the jury didn't buy it. The jury also didn't buy the Feds' argument that the guns showed they were drug traffickers. If they had been convicted of having more than 100 plants and of having guns in furtherance of drug trafficking, the charges would have qualified the defendants for mandatory minimum sentencing rules and possibly 5 or 10 years in prison.

    Seven months after the verdict came the sentencing. While the family hadn't been allowed to mention medical marijuana during their trial, their attorney was allowed to discuss it during sentencing. It didn't seem to help. Rolland Gregg received a sentence of two years and nine months. Michelle Gregg and Rhonda Firestack-Harvey were sentenced to one year and one day each. All three of them will face fines and supervised release after they're free. Zucker, the family friend who testified against the others, got a year and four months.

    When I read a story in Spokane's daily newspaper on the day of the sentencing, there was one line I couldn't stop reading over and over. The judge, Thomas Rice, "found that the members of the family did grow and use marijuana for medicinal purposes," the story read. "But that did not factor into his sentence."

    The details of the Kettle Falls Five case were always fuzzy. While all five of them had a doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana, they also had a lot of weed. The jury couldn't find enough evidence to convict them of distribution, but it's not a stretch to imagine they may have shared it with friends or sold some. In comment sections on news stories about this case, people really liked to speculate about the details around how many plants a marijuana patient needs, arguing that reporters like me were giving the family too much sympathy.

    Maybe.

    But even if the most cynical observer of this case was right on every point, does putting these people in federal prison make any sense?

    In a recent story in the Washington Post about the upcoming release of about 6,000 inmates, "overcrowding" is listed in the first sentence as a reason for the move. The racial disproportionality of the drug war and its mandatory minimums have been well documented. (One advocate who worked on the Kettle Falls Five case told me early on that she doubted she would have gotten such national media attention if she had been defending a young black man.) More than 20 states have now legalized medical marijuana and four—plus Washington, DC—have okayed recreational cannabis in some form.

    It was that backdrop of changing priorities that made this case of a few small-time growers with hunting rifles in Eastern Washington—whether they sold any pot or not—especially excessive. They now all have felony convictions on their records. On top of the costs of the trial (the federal prosecutor, the judge, the courtroom staff, the jury), housing the group in federal prison for the sentences they received will cost taxpayers somewhere around $175,000.

    That may be a small sum in comparison to the full federal budget, sure—but for what? As voters' opinions have shifted on marijuana—medical or not—the federal government has failed to keep up. Until that changes, people like the Kettle Falls Five will continue to face time behind bars, even in states where marijuana is legal.



    By Heidi Groover - Time/Oct. 28, 2015
    http://www.thestranger.com/features...s-in-eastern-washington-are-headed-to-prison?
    Newshawk Crew

    About Author

    Beenthere2Hippie
    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.

Comments

  1. Bango Skank
    Re: Four Medical Marijuana Patients From the State of Washington are Going Off to Jai

    I am literally shaking my head in disgust.

    How backwards is the whole situation?!

    Shame on the judge and prosecution! They screwed the family over by forbidding the subject of medical use to be a factor for the defense.

    I'm sure the prosecution and judge wanted to make an example of that family, once the case started receiving major media attention.

    In my perfect world, the prosecution and whoever lead the investigation would be charged for such a stupid waste of resources that would be better used on countless other fronts.
  2. TLSJ
    Re: Four Medical Marijuana Patients From the State of Washington are Going Off to Jai

    You know, while this report completely DISGUSTS me, and I agree with almost every point made, our government was set up to have checks and balances, so no one part of government could become too powerful. Judicial, legislative, and executive branches have their roles, and each branch is not supposed to play the role of either of the other two branches. In theory, it's a good system. Legislative branch makes the laws, judicial interprets, and executive carries them out.

    Since the federal government does not presently make any exceptions to the law regarding medical marijuana, if a federal judge were to not convict based on anything other than the law, that judge would be in essence, violating the designed checks and balances, and taking the role of the legislative branch. If that is allowed to happen, in even the most sympathetic case, it opens the door for corruption, and that is a slippery slope indeed.

    The law certainly needs to be changed, and that judge could have stayed within his judicial role, and given them no jail time, and most likely there could have been a way for him to avoid having the defendants end up with a felony on their record(s), perhaps via PBJ (not sure if that sort of disposition was available in this case.)

    It IS ridiculous, but if we want our government to not overstep their bounds, then we can't have judges disregarding the laws.

    Think of it this way: If a cop suddenly started making up his own rules and arresting people for whatever HE felt was wrong, it's not too hard to see how that can end up in absolute chaos and full-blown corruption, especially if additional cops started doing the same thing.

    Unfortunately we do have many of these forms of corruption. The government is abusing its power in many areas. And it sucks. But the more the government branches abuse their power, and steps outside their part of the equation, and takes on roles which don't belong to them, the more corrupt our government becomes. We have to strive to make the system work, because 2 wrongs don't make a right. And if our governing officials had higher morals in general, I believe our system would work, as designed.

    I see this judge, by not throwing out the case altogether, or handing down a not-guilty verdict, he was acting within the confines of his branch of governing: Interpreting the laws. But he still had other options that he could have used that would have resulted in proper justice here. At the very least, he could've given them time served.

    I can't stand government over-reach. But if we don't at least try to work within the system (change the damn law for starters-call your congressman, btw!), the whole thing breaks down, and rule of law becomes a matter of whoever has the most brute force deciding what's allowable. Unfortunately we have allowed that very thing to happen over time. And our founding fathers knew government could become powerful to the point where the "little guys" would end up at the mercy of the elite. And that's one of the main reasons they set up our government the way they did.
  3. prescriptionperil
    Re: Four Medical Marijuana Patients From the State of Washington are Going Off to Jai

    Since Holder gave jurisdiction to the states this fact should be admissible. Obviously, the Schedule 1 status is bogus, but the Rebublican house and Senate are useless. Strangely, my state has a Schedule II classification, which allows for research. Connecticut medical marijuana patients cannot grow there own, and it's only allowed for very few maladies. One must have a record of diagnosis, so personally I met the qualification having PTSD. Polls show even deeply conservative red states support blanket legalization. Since it's not easy to get a meth prescription, alcohol makes a better analogy regarding a more dangerous drug that!s unscheduled.

    Of course America remains racist.
  4. bluntwraps
    Re: Four Medical Marijuana Patients From the State of Washington are Going Off to Jai

    This is not surprising. I wonder how much money big pharma pumps into the politicians pockets. I think that's what it really boils down to. Do the shills in Washington care more about big corporations (oops I meant people) who lobby with big pockets or citizens' desire and will to use cannabis legally and States rights?

    There are so many factors to consider in something like cannabis reform. Like what, if anything would the president be able to do without congressional support ( its drugs here not something the government cherishes like war, so realistically ) to unschedule it?

    I think the fact that the federal government still considers cannabis more dangerous than meth is not just being archaic and puritanical thinking. The "drug war " is alive and well and its just another form of social control. People who use drugs tend to have ideals about the world the federal government does not approve of.

    They claim drugs that are schedule one have no accepted medical value when cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines were all used as accepted medicines. Taking them away from doctors use and prohibiting them sent drugs into the black market, creating a huge underground economy sure to never go away, and causing all of the problems with prison overcrowding, gangs, drug money funding other criminal activity and on and on.

    The drug war has duped a lot of Americans into blind faith in their government and blind hate of all drugs. This is a reuslt of successful propaganda. There is a reason why normies cringe from the word meth. Its because it conjures images of Faces of Meth. Shows like Dr. Phil and to a lesser extent Intervention would not exist if we didn't think a certain way about drugs.

    I feel like this is something bigger than whoever the next president is and whatever campaign promises they make. I'm not sure state level politics matter either, obviously as this story proves.

    I think we are just shit outta luck. Not like we won't do drugs regardless ;)
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