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Pay attention to Spokane case if you own guns, smoke pot

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A trial scheduled to begin today in Spokane has some serious implications, especially for residents of Washington and Colorado who may smoke pot recreationally or ingest it for medical reasons, and own or possess firearms for hunting and personal protection, because under federal law, the two do not mix.

Seventy-year-old Larry Harvey, his wife, son and daughter-in-law and their friend, Jason Zucker, are defendants in a federal case, facing charges that could put them in prison for several years. Known as the Kettle Falls Five, they had a small pot-growing collective on Harvey’s property near the northern Stevens County community until they were raided in 2012 by federal drug enforcement officers.

A story about the case in yesterday’s Seattle Times focused on Harvey’s travels to Washington, D.C. last week to explain problems facing medical marijuana users to anyone on Capitol Hill who might listen. A case such as that against the Kettle Falls Five was virtually preordained with adoption of state medical marijuana laws and passage of 2012 initiatives in Washington and Colorado legalizing recreational pot use.

A key tenet of the case, as noted yesterday by the Spokane Spokesman-Review, is that drug agents found several guns at Harvey’s home. These are, Harvey told a reporter, “for hunting and protection from bears, cougars and coyotes that sometimes come as close as the front steps.” The list included a black powder rifle and a .22-caliber rifle that Harvey claimed doesn’t work.

Too bad, say the feds, who included “possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime” in the charges facing the five defendants. Another problem for the defendants is that no one can argue they were complying with state medical marijuana law, which allows people to grow small amounts of marijuana.

The Spokane newspaper also noted, “That raises the prospect that if federal drug officials decide to arrest recreational marijuana growers, they also won’t be able to claim they were following state laws as a defense.” Clearly, the long-anticipated collision between state and federal laws is happening with the Harvey case.

This case also raises the specter of trouble ahead for pot shops in Colorado and Washington that hire armed security to prevent robberies. Pot shops will have to be “gun-free zones.”

The Spokesman Review also observed, “That raises the prospect that if federal drug officials decide to arrest recreational marijuana growers, they also won’t be able to claim they were following state laws as a defense. And federal officials won’t need aerial searches, like the one that turned up the Kettle Falls 5 garden, to find recreational marijuana grows. The locations will be listed on public documents filed with the state Liquor Control Board.”

The Spokesman-Review contains other details not revealed by the Seattle Times. The story quotes Dr. Greg Carter, medical director of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane. He is researching medical marijuana use under a grant from the state Attorney General’s office. But he can’t testify on that, according to federal District Judge Fred Van Sickle, and neither can the defendants. The judge’s reasoning: It “would be plainly improper … unfairly prejudicial to the United States and confusing to jurors,” the newspaper said.

The Seattle Times noted that Harvey’s trek to Capitol Hill last week was part of an effort to convince Congress that marijuana should be legalized for people who use it for medical reasons. The story estimated more than 1 million Americans current use medical marijuana. If any of them own or possess firearms, they could wind up in trouble.

If Harvey is convicted, he could spend at least ten years in prison. As a convicted felon, he would lose his right to own or possess firearms.