A federal judge has vacated the convictions of three Washingtonians found guilty in 2015 for growing medical cannabis near Kettle Falls, putting an end to a legal saga that tested the power of federal authorities to crack down on marijuana operations.
The so-called Kettle Falls Five was a family of growers: Rhonda Firestack-Harvey and her husband Larry Harvey, Rhonda’s son Rolland Gregg, Rolland’s wife Michelle, and a family friend named Jason Zucker. Federal prosecutors charged the group 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 cannabis laws; the feds argued there's no such thing as medical cannabis under federal law.
Zucker cut a deal and testified against the others. As Larry battled late-stage pancreatic cancer, prosecutors dropped the charges against him. In early 2015, the remaining three were found guilty of growing but acquitted on the other counts. Larry died in August 2015.
We wrote about the details of the case and covered the trial in 2015. It also received national attention as an example of federal crackdowns on the drug even in states that legalize it.
After the convictions, Firestack-Harvey and the Greggs appealed, saying federal prosecutors had violated a law that bans federal authorities from spending money to stop states from implementing medical cannabis laws. In October, the feds admitted they were "not authorized to spend money on the prosecution of the defendants after December of 2014." The government then asked to dismiss the charges.
In an order filed today, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice granted that motion, vacating the convictions and dismissing the charges. According to the judge, the government could potentially recharge the three defendants if Congress reversed the ban on certain cannabis-related spending.
Phil Telfeyan, the Executive Director of the D.C.-based Equal Justice Under Law who defended the family, issued a statement calling the decision "a victory, not only for this family, but for all medical marijuana patients across the country."