Larry Harvey, 71, thought he was doing everything right growing medical marijuana for his personal use. His home state of Washington legalized medical cannabis in 1998, and Harvey says his cultivation of plants with his wife, other family members and a close friend complied with the law.
But in 2012, state and federal law enforcers raided the Harvey home and shut down their operation. Harvey; his wife, Rhonda; their son, Rolland Gregg; Gregg's wife, Michelle Gregg; and family friend Jason Zucker all face federal marijuana charges that could land them in prison for 10 years.
But Harvey may not live long enough to see prison, let alone serve out his sentence. In recent months Harvey has developed cancer of the pancreas that has begun to spread to his liver. The average life expectancy for a patient with metastatic pancreatic cancer is three months to six months.
In the coming days, a federal judge will rule on a motion Harvey filed to dismiss his case because it conflicts with new medical marijuana protections in the recently enacted $1.1 trillion federal spending bill that says the Department of Justice shouldn't interfere with state medical marijuana laws. The judge may also drop charges against Harvey when he shows proof of his deteriorating health.
Federal law classifies marijuana a Schedule I substance "with no currently accepted medical use." The judge has told the group they may not invoke their status as state-legal medical marijuana patients as a defense.
This is Larry Harvey's story:
I live about nine miles north of Colville, Washington. We have about 34 acres on the side of a mountain over there. My wife Rhonda grows a big vegetable garden and she cans and freezes everything out of that garden. We have wild game on the property here -- turkeys, grouse, we eat a lot of venison. We’re both hunters. We try to live off the land all we can.
I’ve got a real banged up knee -- the meniscus is gone in my left knee and if I walk a quarter-mile, I’m crippled the rest of the day. I got it mostly from about 4 million miles from shoving a clutch, as well as some foolish things when I was younger.
But about four years ago, a friend of mine gave me a marijuana cookie. I was sitting in my chair, my knee throbbing. I ate that little cookie and in about five minutes the pain was completely gone. It’s kind of like having a toothache. Every time your heart beats it kind of boings. It’s such a relief. I didn’t feel “stoned” or whatever at all. The cookie I had was small and all it did was relieve the pain. So I felt like we needed to grow some of this stuff.
There were five of us -- my wife and I, her son Rolland and his wife Michelle, and then another family friend Jason. We all pooled together and we grew some pot. Everything was going good until the cavalry showed up.
The Civil Air Patrol was flying in the area. They spotted our grow and they called the Forest Service. The Forest Service, of course, is a federal outfit, so they got a hold of the DEA and sheriff and all that and they flew over. But they didn’t say a thing about the white flag with a green cross I was flying above the grow. In fact, they are editing that green cross flag evidence out of my trial because they don’t want the jury in a federal court to know it was a medical marijuana grow. It’s federal court, and we’re not to mention that we are legal medical marijuana patients in the state of Washington.
I was in Alaska when both raids happened, but my wife was at the home. The first time, the state authorities went up to the grow and pulled out enough plants to get our grow down to 45 plants. We had less than 75 and we’re legal to have up to that many, but they thought we were growing as a collective, instead of growing individually. After they pulled out the plants, they went away. That was it.
About a week or so later, the feds came back with another warrant. They came up and beat on the door and showed their search warrant and started to tear the house apart. They took every weapon I have in the house. They took our car, 2007 Saturn Vue. They took both our motorcycles. They took our ATV. Rhonda had several hundred dollars saved up in her dresser drawer for a trip to Mexico. They took that. They took $200 from a cabinet -- that was our house money that we use for buying groceries. Numerous other things, and of course, all the plants and every bit of marijuana we had in the house.
That was in August. They never arrested Rhonda, never gave her a ticket. I came home from Alaska and was expecting the long arm of the law at any time to come up and grab me. But nothing happened. Winter comes and goes. All of a sudden it’s March. Rhonda is up visiting her family in Alaska at this time. Then, one morning, around 8 a.m.. here come five carloads of cops, two cops in each car. They circled my house, jumped out with their rifles. And the U.S. Marshal shouts that I’m under arrest, handcuff me and stick me in the back of a car and take me to the a lockup facility at the Spokane federal building and a judge throws me in jail.
I spent 17 long days in that jailhouse and now they’re trying to throw back in there again. I could spend at least 10 years in federal prison for medical marijuana. For me, 10 years would be a death sentence. They might as well take me out and execute me. Why put me through all the misery? I might as well jump off a bridge. I can’t shoot myself because I don’t have a gun.
I've got stage four pancreatic cancer and I've got a spot of cancer on my liver. When they first discovered it, around my birthday, they gave me two months to six years to live. I beat the two months already, so now I'm going for the six years.
I just hope I can beat this cancer and live a little longer. I'm 71, I've got a few good years in me after I get rid of this crap.
I’ve got a nice place, I just wanted to enjoy my retirement, but they’re not letting me. They’re treating me like a criminal. It’s just bizarre. This country still thinks that marijuana is a nasty word. And until about 10 years ago, I did too, until I tried that cookie. The stuff we use is real low in THC. There’s all kinds, but the government doesn’t recognize that.
I refuse to take any pain pills. I take blood pressure medicine, my heart or my gout, but as far as any pain meds, forget it. I’m not taking those damn things. Medical marijuana was a huge relief for my knee.
They say they might let me off because of my health, but even if they do, they're still going to prosecute my wife. I need her. She's my caregiver. Without her I'm going to need assisted living or something. I need help. I'm getting beat up.
This whole thing is taking its toll on everyone. We’re all getting worn down from it. It’s out of our hands now.
I want people to know what I’m going through, what the government is doing here. We were not prepared for this kind of response. We thought what we were doing was legal. I never would have grown medical marijuana if I thought it was illegal. If we had an indoor grow we probably would have been fine, but we weren’t trying to hide anything. We got a rude awakening.
We're innocent and we’re going to prove it. These laws have to change.
Harvey's story has been edited for length and clarity. Learn more about the Harvey case and sign the petition calling for their release here.