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Kettle Falls Five Covered by Forbes


The following is an excerpt from a piece by Jacob Sullum for Forbes.

During their trial at the federal courthouse in Spokane last March, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey and her two fellow defendants—her son, Rolland Gregg, and his wife, Michelle Gregg—were not allowed to explain why they were openly growing marijuana on a plot in rural northeastern Washington marked by a big green cross that was visible from the air. According to a pretrial ruling, it was irrelevant that they were using marijuana for medical purposes, as permitted by state law, since federal law recognizes no legitimate use for the plant. But now that Firestack-Harvey and the Greggs have been convicted, they are free to talk about their motivation, and it might even make a difference when they are sentenced next Thursday.

Federal drug agents raided the marijuana garden, which was located outside Firestack-Harvey’s home near Kettle Falls, in 2012. In addition to the three defendants who are scheduled tobe sentenced next week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington charged Firestack-Harvey’s husband, Larry Harvey, and a family friend, Jason Zucker. Dubbed the Kettle Falls Five, all had doctor’s letters recommending marijuana for treatment of various conditions, including gout, anorexia, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease, and chronic pain from a broken back. Last February prosecutors dropped the charges against Harvey because he has terminal cancer. Zucker, who had aGreen plant in dry stone prior marijuana conviction, pleaded guilty just before the trial and agreed to testify against the other defendants in exchange for a 16-month sentence, which was much shorter than the 15-year term he could have received in light of his criminal history.

Although no one was supposed to talk about medical marijuana during the trial, the prosecution kept stumbling onto that taboo subject, because it was clearly relevant to the question of where all the pot went, which was central to the case. Even with Zucker’s help, prosecutors had no direct evidence of distribution. They were therefore forced to argue that the defendants must have been selling marijuana because they were growing too much for their own personal consumption.

The government counted 74 plants. According to the defense, the feds double-counted some plants with two stalks emerging from the same root structure. The defendants’ lawyers say the correct number is 68. Either way, the total was below Washington’s presumptive limit of 15 plants per patient. Testifying for the defense, Jeremy Kaufman, a cannabis consultant, said the number of plants found on the Harveys’ property did not seem excessive, especially since only a small part of each plant is usable and may be consumed in the form of extracts, edibles, and juice. Kaufman mentioned that he himself grows 150 plants for his own use. On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks asked how on earth Kaufman managed to consume that much cannabis, and Kaufman explained that he used it to relieve the symptoms of several medical conditions.

Whoops. Meghan Ridley, who covered the trial for Dope magazine, noted that Hicks “was forced to stumble and retract questioning on numerous occasions during the cross and Rolland Gregg and Rhonda Firestack-Harvey hugreexaminations” of Kaufman. “It was humorous to see the prosecutor having to cut himself off and not ask the obvious questions,” recalls Phil Telfeyan, Rolland Gregg’s lawyer.

Still, the defendants’ motivation for growing marijuana was hardly a secret. Not only did Hicks inadvertently elicit testimony about medical use, but several jurors said during voir dire that they had read press reports about the case, all of which mentioned that the defendants had doctor’s recommendations. When a friend of Rolland Gregg’s who testified for the defense mentioned that both of them had broken their backs, Hicks objected, which prompted U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice to agree, in front of the jurors, that “none of the medical issues” should be discussed. Finally, a visibly ailing Larry Harvey was in the courtroom for much of the trial.

Read more here.

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