In an unexpected filing this week, the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledged that it did not have the authority to spend federal dollars going after a family of medical marijuana growers in eastern Washington.
We covered the case of the Kettle Falls Five back in 2015. The family of growers who lived about two hours from Spokane—Rhonda Firestack-Harvey and her husband Larry Harvey, along with Rhonda’s son Rolland Gregg, Rolland’s wife Michelle, and a family friend named Jason Zucker—was charged back in 2013 for growing and distributing cannabis and owning guns “in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.” The family argued they were following state medical marijuana laws; the feds argued there's no such thing as medical marijuana under federal law. Zucker cut a deal and testified against the others. Prosecutors dropped the charges against Larry as he was battling late-stage pancreatic cancer. In early 2015, the other three were found guilty of growing but acquitted on the other counts. Larry died in August 2015.
Firestack-Harvey and the Greggs appealed their convictions, arguing in part that federal prosecutors had violated the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. That amendment, tucked in a 2014 spending bill, prevented federal authorities from spending money to stop states from implementing medical marijuana laws.
As Leafly and others have reported, Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks filed a motion this week in which he essentially acknowledges the defendants are right. He asks for a halt to the appeal proceedings and for the case to be remanded back to a lower court until the spending provision is no longer in place.
"The purpose of this motion is to acknowledge that the United States was not authorized to spend money on the prosecution of the defendants after December of 2014 because the defendants strictly complied with the Washington State medical marijuana laws," Hicks writes in the motion.
Prosecutors have offered few details beyond that. Hicks told the Spokesman Review: "The law changed. The United States follows the law and we really can’t comment further. It’s still an active case.”
Phil Telfeyan, a lawyer at the Washington, D.C.-based organization Equal Justice Under Law who represented the Kettle Falls Five, called it "a victory for the family."
"For over five years, the federal government wasted taxpayer money prosecuting a family that had fully complied with state laws," Telfeyan said in a statement. "The feds have finally admitted that the family never should have been prosecuted in the first place, but there is no way they can get those five years of their lives back."
Equal Justice Under the Law plans to file a motion to dismiss the case.