Washington family facing federal prison can’t use state medical marijuana law as a defense


Larry Harvey and Rhonda Firestack-Harvey.

If the last few months of pot tolerance from the Obama administration has left you thinking that all is well in the world of state-legalized medical marijuana, you’d be wrong. A federal judge yesterday refuse to allow a Washington state family to use the state’s medical marijuana laws in their defense against federal charges of cultivation, possession and distribution of marijuana as well as a gun charge for having a firearm “in furtherance of drug trafficking.”

U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle said that the intent of Larry Harvey, 70, and his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, their son, his wife and their family friend to help sick patients in Washington state doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is federal law.
“The intent of the defendants is not relevant to the issues,” Van Sickle said. “There’s this concept of reliance on state law and the like. That’s not relevant either.”
In the Harvey’s situation, the family was within their state limits and was only cultivating 74 plants for personal use, according to the family’s attorney. The guns were a shotgun used for hunting turkey and a rifle for deer hunting, but the feds say it is proof that they are in the business of trafficking drugs.
“You can tell a portion of the truth, just a bit of the truth and only the truth they want you to tell,” Kari Boiter, a coordinator with Americans for Safe Access, tells the HuffingtonPost. “Forget ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,'” Boiter added.
The Harvey home was originally raided in August of 2012 by state cops who removed 29 plants to keep the family at the 45-plant limit under state law. No charges were filed at the time, but a week later the feds swooped in and took the rest of the plants as well as about five pounds of ganja. Not really a massive drug haul for the DEA.
It’s a move played out time and time again in federal courts, which don’t recognize the medical value of cannabis whatsoever. But it’s a move that increasingly makes no sense especially as the U.S. Attorney’s office has said that people and businesses following state laws won’t be the targets of expensive federal investigations and trials. But denying the medical marijuana argument seals the deal for the feds, who otherwise rely on the fact that the people they bust are being open about their cannabis cultivation for an easy case.
But as easy as it may be for the feds, it still costs them a boatload of money. So far it is estimated that the Department of Justice has blown $3 million on the case so far and it could cost as much $13 million to send them all to prison.
The family attorney has written to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to step in and stop the case from going forward.
“This is not the kind of spectacular haul that the DEA is typically called in for,” the attorney wrote. “Just the opposite, the evidence seized is consistent with the type of strict medical dosage that occurs with a doctor’s supervision.”
The family members rejected plea deals last week and now face up to life in prison. The family goes to trial on May 12, but in the meantime Larry Harvey is lobbying in Washington D.C. to get lawmakers to think critically about mandatory sentences and unnecessary jail time for nonviolent marijuana offenses.
“It’s wrong what the federal government is doing to us,” Harvey said. “I just want to make sure Congress knows what’s happening so they can fix the law and so there’s no more money wasted on cases like mine.”