Marijuana Growers in Legal State Sentenced to Federal Prison

by Nicholas K. Geranios AP | KOMO News | Photo by Nicholas K. Geranios

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – The three remaining defendants in the case of the so-called Kettle Falls Five were sentenced to federal prison on Friday for growing marijuana in a state where both the medical and recreational use of marijuana are legal under Washington laws.

The defendants are known as the Kettle Falls Five because of their original number. They were convicted earlier this year of growing marijuana on their rural property near Kettle Falls, in violation of federal law.

Rolland Gregg was sentenced Friday to 33 months in prison, followed by three years of probation. His wife Michelle Gregg, 36, was sentenced to one year in prison and three years of probation. Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 56, who is Rolland Gregg’s mother, was also sentenced to one year in prison and three years of probation.

All three remain free pending the outcome of appeals.

“I sincerely apologize for violating federal law,” Rolland Gregg told U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice prior to sentencing. “I am not the victim here. I am now a felon.”

The case had been closely watched nationally by marijuana activists, who criticized the federal government for prosecuting marijuana growers in a state where cannabis is legal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks rejected the notion that the defendants were growing the pot for their own medical use.

“This is a for-profit marijuana grow,” Hicks said. “It has nothing to do with medical marijuana.”

Prosecutors contended the defendants grew more than 100 pounds of marijuana in 2011 and 2012, far in excess of their personal needs.

Defense attorneys argued for sentences of probation only.

“This was not a for-profit marijuana grow,” said attorney Phil Tefleyan, who represented Rolland Gregg.

Larry Harvey was excused from the case when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year and has since died. Family friend Jason Zucker accepted a plea deal from federal prosecutors and testified for the government at trial in exchange for a 16-month penalty.

The remaining three were convicted in March by a federal jury of growing between 50 and 100 marijuana plants on their rural property, which was searched by investigators in 2012.

Since then, Washington has also legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

But growing and possessing marijuana remains a crime under federal laws.

The defendants did not dispute that they grew marijuana, but contended they grew less than the government alleged.

The jury exonerated them of more serious charges of distributing marijuana, conspiracy to distribute and firearms charges that carried long prison sentences.

Tefleyan has said the government could not point to a single sale of the drug by the family. He said the evidence seized by drug enforcement agents during a raid in August 2012 – four pounds of marijuana and about $700 in cash – didn’t support the conclusion the family was dealing.

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