A recent federal appeals court ruling could make an important difference in the Kettle Falls Five case, which involves Washington residents who grew marijuana for their own medical use.
Last October, seven months after they were convicted of growing marijuana, the three remaining defendants in the Kettle Falls Five case were sentenced to federal prison. Rolland Gregg received a sentence of 33 months, while his wife, Michelle Gregg, and his mother, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, each received a one-year sentence. They are appealing their convictions, based partly on the argument that their prosecution violated a spending rider prohibiting the Justice Department from using appropriated money to prevent states from implementing their medical marijuana laws. A couple of weeks ago that argument got a boost from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which includes Washington.
The DOJ had argued that the rider, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, applies only to litigation against the states themselves, not to prosecution of individuals who grow or distribute marijuana for medical use. Rejecting that interpretation in United States v. McIntosh, the 9th Circuit said the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment bars the Justice Department from prosecuting marijuana suppliers who fully comply with state laws allowing medical use of the plant. The appeals court said federal marijuana defendants are therefore entitled to evidentiary hearings at which they can try to show their actions were authorized by state law.
Phil Telfeyan, a defense attorney who represents Rolland Gregg, says McIntosh has a direct impact on the case, since the Kettle Falls Five defendants were in perfect compliance with state law. He notes that each of them had a valid, state-sanctioned medical authorization to grow at least 15 medical marijuana plants, and each only used the marijuana for his/her own personal medicinal needs. Their garden totaled about 70 plants for five patients.
Federal prosecutors disputed that the defendants were growing all of the marijuana for their own medical use, arguing that they must have been selling some of it. But the government never presented any solid evidence to support that allegation. Notably, the jury rejected distribution and conspiracy charges against the Greggs and Firestack-Harvey, convicting them only of growing more than 50 but fewer than 100 plants, which is consistent with their claim of medical use.
The jury rejected the governments allegations that the family was selling marijuana or using guns in furtherance of drug trafficking, Telfeyan says. The only charge on which the jury convicted was for growing marijuana for personal medical needs. The 9th Circuit should toss this count based on the clear direction from Congress and the holding in its recent McIntosh opinion. As we argued at trial and as we will continue to argue on appeal, the Kettle Falls Five never should have been prosecuted, because Congress specifically forbade DOJ from prosecuting these cases.
News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Medical Marijuana Ruling Could Help Kettle Falls Five Defendants
Author: Jacob Sullum
Photo Credit: AP