By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
The confusion as to what constitutes lawful medical marijuana grows with federal deference and ten year punishments for doing so, the United States Department of Justice is prosecuting five rural Eastern Washington residents accused of growing sixty-eight medical marijuana plants in a private collective. The accused include a seventy year old man who states he uses the medicine to treat pain from a job related injury, his wife for her arthritis, and their son.
What compounds the severity for these five individuals is that within the thirty-eight acre property, two of the defendants’ residence had inside several firearms, including rifles which are used by the family to hunt and for protection from wild animals. Firearms are very common in residences in rural Eastern Washington. Yet, the firearms in relation to the marijuana grow add an additional five year minimum sentence, adding to the defendants’ minimum of ten years imprisonment, something the senior defendant claims to be a “death sentence.”
What is rather extraordinary in this effort by the department of justice, despite guidelines in not allocating resources to prosecute medical marijuana patients, the defendants claim it was a misunderstanding of Washington’s medical marijuana laws that caused them to go from legal users to being potentially imprisoned for ten years.
Federal prosecutors allege the five were conspiring to manufacture and distribute marijuana and possession of firearms in relation to drug trafficking. The defendants deny they intended to distribute the marijuana and claim they grow the marijuana for their own usage. They face a minimum of ten years imprisonment if convicted on all charges.
According to Americans for Safe Access, a group that advocates cannabis for medicinal and research use, 100,000 Washingtonians use medical marijuana. Presently there are about thirty state licensed retail marijuana growers who are permitted under state law to grow thousands of plants for distribution to eventually several hundred licensed marijuana retailers.
But there has been irregular enforcement and ambiguity with regard to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Office of the US Attorney. The office posted guidelines in August of 2013 listing priorities and what resources the federal government would consider in whether to prosecute marijuana grows or uses. A copy of this guideline can be found HERE
Within this memorandum one of the guidelines seems to be permissive on this incident:
The Department’s previous memoranda specifically addressed the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in states with laws authorizing marijuana cultivation and distribution for medical use. In those contexts, the Department advised that it is likely was not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals, or on their individual caregivers. In doing so, the previous guidance drew a distinction between the seriously ill and their caregivers, on the one hand, and large-scale, for-profit commercial enterprises, on the other, and advised that the latter continued to be appropriate targets for federal enforcement and prosecution. In drawing this distinction, the Department relied on the common-sense judgment that the size of a marijuana operation was a reasonable proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the federal enforcement priorities set forth above.
The memorandum does not confer any rights or defenses, according to its wording, but purports itself to be a guide to prosecutions and delegation of federal resources.
The underlying incident that brought about this prosecution, reportedly ready for trial in June, allegedly happened in August of 2012 when a sheriff’s deputy arrived at the home of 70 year old Larry Harvey to cut down SOME of his marijuana plants, telling the patients state law only allows forty five plants among a collective grow. The plants originally were alleged to have been sixty eight in number. Mr. Harvey stated he believed he was in compliance because under Washington’s Medical Marijuana Laws, a medical marijuana patient is permitted to grow fifteen plants themselves and among the five of them, they should have been permitted to grow seventy five plants.
Apparently, the sheriff’s office then notified the federal DEA which then arrived at Larry’s home, seized his marijuana plants along with eight of his firearms.
Essentially Larry is put into this jeopardy of his freedom because of numbers. According to Washington Law he could not have more than forty five plants in one collective but if he had instead divided the garden into three areas, perhaps leasing the land to the other defendants, he would have been in compliance. But, since he was allegedly out of compliance the DEA went after them. If the deputy in this case would have recognized this was simply a misinterpretation of the law, according to Larry, a teachable moment might have corrected the matter. Why the DEA was called is unknown. But along with this alleged numbers game, the DEA drew in to the firearms issue to rack up another potential five year penalty.
What do you think?
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.