Larry Harvey, Marijuana Patient Who Challenged DEA, Dies of Cancer

Larry Harvey, the Washington state medical patient who helped advocacy groups personify the draconian and misplaced impact of federal drug policy, died on Aug. 20, 2015. Harvey suffered from pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

Last year, Harvey and his family, along with Americans For Safe Access and other reform groups, successfully lobbied Congress to pass legislation prohibiting the Department of Justice and the Department of Drug Enforcement from prosecuting federal marijuana cases in states where marijuana was legal for some purpose.

Harvey, three other family members and a friend were arrested by state and federal authorities in the months leading up to Washington state’s historic 2012 recreational legalization vote. As a result, the Kettle Falls Five, as the group became known, faced mandatory prison terms of 10 years. Prosecutors dropped all charges against Harvey six months ago because of his terminal diagnosis but not after more than $3 million had been spent on pre-trial costs.

The Kettle Falls case was the cause célèbre at just the right time in the overall debate that forced House members to vote against federal funding for DEA raids after many years of failed attempts by the advocacy community to move the needle forward. This language was later included in the final appropriations bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The family issued this statement on Harvey’s death through the advocacy community:

Larry will be remembered as a fighter until the bitter end. He fearlessly confronted the federal government head on and beat the Department of Justice, against all odds. In a so-called justice system where less than two-percent of defendants walk free, Larry was able to leave the federal courthouse with his head held high after the U.S. Attorney dropped all charges against him.

Three other defendants—Harvey’s wife, son and daughter-in-law, all who also suffer disabilities—were convicted of illegally growing marijuana plants. Jason Lee Zucker, the family friendaccepted a plea deal on conspiracy charges and was sentenced to 16 months. Harvey’s family members may still face prison when they are sentenced in October.

This is just one more grim reminder that the prosecution of medically oriented cases continues. Earlier this summer in fact, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Sam Farr, D-Calif., sent an angry letter to the inspector general of the Justice Department demanding to know why these prosecutions were not stopped. Per the letter, the Congressmen called the continued federal prosecution of these kinds of cases, including the case against the Harvey family, a “direct violation” of current federal law.

No matter what happens in the short term, however, the Harvey case will almost certainly be remembered as a tragic misapplication of federal drug policy which has still not been given a 21st Century upgrade and the brave family who spoke out against it. And that is because Harvey, as well as his surviving family members, had the courage to take a stand.

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