From the very beginning, the 2012 arrest and 2015 prosecution of five small-time Washington medical marijuana growers seemed especially egregious. Then the Department of Justice admitted it essentially broke the law when prosecuting the case.
In an extraordinary admission, the DOJ agreed with defense lawyers that the Kettle Falls Five (named after the region they in eastern Washington) had obeyed state marijuana laws and that the federal government overreached in its attempt to prosecute them. The Huffington Post‘s Matt Ferner, who broke the story, reported:
In a brief filed late Monday in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, DOJ lawyers acknowledged that the department “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.”
Three of the five defendants were sentenced to serve time in prison, but were free pending appeal. Another defendant, Larry Harvey, the family patriarch, died in 2o15 from cancer. Another defendant, Jason Zucker, agreed to a plea and testified against the other defendants.
“This filing is a victory for the family and lawful medical marijuana users all across the country,”Phil Telfeyan, the defendants’ attorney, told Reason.com. “Our government should not use federal money to prosecute people abiding by state laws. This filing will have far-reaching effects that should help end the federal prosecution of marijuana users in states where it’s legal.”
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The case was being watched carefully by marijuana advocates because the DOJ appeared to be violating the law. “This case has turned the justice system completely on its head,” Kari Boiter, who became a spokeswoman for the Kettle Falls Five, told Huffington Post. “Here we have prosecutors admitting that it’s the DOJ who is breaking federal law, not the other way around.”
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment prohibits the DOJ from prosecuting medical marijuana facilities that follow state laws. In announcing the reversal, the DOJ wrote in the brief:
“This court determined that [Rohrabacher-Farr] prohibits the Department of Justice from spending funds for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the state medical marijuana laws and fully complied with the laws.”
Although the DOJ admitted its error, it did not ask for charges to be dropped. But the Kettle Five lawyers are confident that their defendants will not see the inside of a jail cell and that the court will eventually drop the case.
“Let’s not forget that Larry Harvey gave his life fighting for his family’s freedom ― and spent his final months on Earth working to pass the federal law that is cited in the prosecutors’ new motion,” Boiter told HuffPo. “The federal government can’t give Larry back, but they can start to right this wrong by fully exonerating the surviving defendants, once and for all.”