| Posted on Fri, May, 16th 2014 by THCFinder
Sean Green grows marijuana at 1919 East Francis Avenue in Spokane, about six miles from the courthouse where the federal government plans to try Larry Harvey, a 70-year-old retired truck driver, for growing marijuana. Green’s operation is a lot bigger than Harvey’s: up to 21,000 square feet of plant canopy, compared to the 45 plants that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) found on Harvey’s property in a rural area of northeastern Washington about 10 miles from Kettle Falls. The difference in scale makes sense, because Green is growing pot for Washington’s newly legal recreational market, while Harvey and four other medical marijuana users were growing it for their own consumption. Both kinds of cultivation are allowed under Washington law, and both are prohibited under federal law. Yet Green’s future as a cannabis entrepreneur looks bright, while Harvey and his co-defendants face prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life.
The case of the Kettle Falls Five highlights the gap between policy and practice in the Obama administration’s approach to medical marijuana as well as puzzling inconsistencies in the prosecution choices of Michael Ormsby, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. Since 2009 the Justice Department has been saying that prosecuting patients who use marijuana in compliance with state law “is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.” Last August the department extended this policy of prosecutorial forbearance to state-licensed suppliers of recreational marijuana, saying it will not interfere with legalization in Washington or Colorado as long as the markets are properly regulated. While Ormsby seems to have gotten the second memo, he seems to have missed the first one. “This case is another glaring example of what’s wrong with the federal policy on cannabis,” says Kari Boiter of Americans for Safe Access. “If the Justice Department can continue to aggressively prosecute individual patients without any consequences from the White House, none of these DOJ memos are worth the paper they’re printed on.”
The Harvey trial, which was originally scheduled to start this week, has been postponed until July 28, at which point at least some of Spokane’s eight state-licensed pot shops should be open for business, selling marijuana grown by state-licensed producers like Sean Green. It will be a surreal juxtaposition. Last week the judge overseeing the Kettle Falls Five case ruled that the defendants may not so much as mention the reason they were growing marijuana, which under federal law does not matter. Meanwhile, on their way home from the courthouse, jurors will be able to buy pot from openly operating businesses licensed by the state of Washington, approved by the city of Spokane, and tolerated by the federal government.
The seeds of this bizarre situation were planted in July 2012, when the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office received a tip from the Civil Air Patrol that someone was growing marijuana near the Colville Airport. A few weeks later, Sgt. Brad Manke flew over the area and spotted about 70 marijuana plants. Based on that evidence, the sheriff’s office obtained a search warrant for the property, which it served on August 9. Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, Larry’s wife, told the officers that she, her husband, their son, their daughter-in-law, and a family friend were using the marijuana to treat various conditions, including gout, osteoarthritis, wasting syndrome, and chronic pain from severe back injuries. All five have medical recommendations, which under a ballot initiative approved in 1998 gives them an affirmative defense against possession and cultivation charges.