Federal Jury Reaches Verdict in Kettle Falls Five Case

Kettle Falls Five

On Tuesday, March 3, 2015, a federal jury acquitted a family of medical marijuana patients on four out five federal charges pressed against them. Known as the Kettle Falls Five, the family had been accused of operating a marijuana distribution ring out of the home of defendant Rhonda Firestack-Harvey.

The Kettle Falls Five is comprised of Rhonda Firestack-Harvey; Larry Harvey, Rhonda’s husband; Rolland Greg, Rhonda and Harvey’s son; Michelle Gregg, Rolland’s wife; and family friend Jason Zucker.

Before trial, charges were dropped against Larry Harvey for health reasons and Zucker escaped prosecution on a plea deal by admitting to doing most of the growing and fronting the money for the initial grow.

The defendants were able to escape the more serious charges of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, manufacturing and distribution of marijuana, possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking and maintaining a drug-involved premise.

Unfortunately, the group was still convicted of growing fewer than 100 marijuana plants, but as they never denied that charge, that verdict was more or less expected.  Despite this conviction, marijuana advocates are still calling this court case a victory.

“This is a win,” Kari Boiter of Americans for Safe Access told USA Today. “We always knew there would be a guilty verdict on the manufacturing.” The reason why it is considered a victory is that this case lays bare the conflict between state and federal law. Many prohibitionists often like to say that the government is simply going after the bad guys and not medical marijuana patients.

However, in this case, you had the federal government raiding the homes of medical marijuana patients who were abiding by state law and causing harm to no one. After three years of hell and court dates, all the government has to show for it is one measly cultivation charge. Maybe now, the government will think twice before harassing innocent people.

Given the fact that Congress supposedly defunded the DEA and Justice Department from undermining state medical marijuana laws, you may be wondering how this case even came to trial. The reason is the initial charges were much more serious than growing marijuana and the fact that the Kettle Falls Five were indicted in February 2013, nearly two years before Congress actually defunded the DEA and DOJ’s enforcement efforts against state medical marijuana laws.

So while we are less likely to see cases like this in the future, the Kettle Falls Five case was already intractably in motion. Now, all that is left of the Kettle Falls Five saga is the sentencing period, which will happen later this summer.

The sentence for the three defendants should be relatively light given that they are in Washington, where marijuana is fully legal, and the fact that they can use their medical marijuana patient status as a defense this time around.

In a country where marijuana is recreationally legal in four states and medically legal in 23, it can be hard to remember that marijuana is still federally illegal. Your investment may seem safe from the markets, but it will never be truly safe until marijuana is legal nationwide. As an industry we may feel that prohibition is in its death throes, but cases like the Kettle Falls Five help remind us that there is still a lot of work to do.

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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