The only member of the so-called “Kettle Falls Five” marijuana-growing family to plead guilty received a 16-month sentence Friday, but will remain out of custody pending an appeal.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice did not accept Jason Zucker’s explanation that the plants he and the Harvey family grew on property in Stevens County were for medicinal purposes.
“There is no such thing as medical marijuana,” Rice said. “There is no such thing in federal law.”
Zucker is the first to be sentenced in the case. At trial in March, Zucker testified for the federal government against Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, Rolland Gregg and Michelle Gregg, saying he brought more than 70 plants from his home in Seattle to the Harvey property in rural Stevens County in 2011 and 2012. Zucker pleaded guilty just before the trial was to begin, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Caitlin Baunsgard said Friday Zucker’s testimony was “integral” to obtaining convictions against his codefendants.
“We found his testimony to be believable, credible and reliable,” Baunsgard said.
Firestack-Harvey and the Greggs are scheduled to be sentenced in separate proceedings, tentatively scheduled for October. The fifth defendant in the case, Larry Harvey, had his charges dropped after doctors diagnosed him with terminal cancer late last year.
Each member of the family said they had medical marijuana cards and believed they were operating under the allowances of state law. Zucker broke his back in a snowboarding accident in 2000 and obtained a medical card.
All of the defendants, including Zucker, remain out of custody pending appeals.
Zucker told Rice he regretted helping the Harvey family grow, calling the two-and-a-half years since federal authorities raided the Stevens County property “a nightmare.” Authorities seized plants, business records and two firearms at the home. The guns attracted the federal interest in the case, said Zucker’s attorney Frank Cikutovich.
“They thought, for all intents and purposes, that it was legal,” Cikutovich said.
Cikutovich said Zucker’s decision to take a plea deal and testify against the Harveys prompted threats and caused anxiety for his client, who already had a criminal marijuana conviction on his record when he was arrested in 2012.
“He had to make a decision about which family was more important to him,” Cikutovich said.
In the gallery at the U.S. Courthouse in Spokane on Friday morning were Zucker’s wife, 3-year-old daughter and several friends and family members who traveled from as far away as New Mexico. Heather Zucker, Jason’s wife, asked for leniency for the couple’s young daughter.
“I don’t know how to explain to a 3-year-old that her father is in prison,” Heather Zucker said, as her daughter played with coloring books in the audience.
Cikutovich also pointed out that, since the case was originally charged, public opinion about marijuana - and several state laws - had changed, saying “the barn door’s open.” He also said Jason Zucker was misled by the lenient attitude toward marijuana growing in Western Washington compared to the strict stance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eastern Washington.
“Things have changed, but unfortunately he will not be the beneficiary of that,” Cikutovich said of Zucker.
Rice found none of the arguments compelling.
“I’m not quite impressed with you,” Rice told Zucker. He said his hands were tied based on Congress’ stance towards marijuana, continuing to schedule the drug on par with heroin, LSD and ecstasy as having no medicinal benefit, despite 23 states and Washington, D.C., adopting laws legalizing medical markets.
“In a sense, you’re playing Russian roulette with the DEA,” Rice told Zucker. He advised the 40-year-old Seattle resident to get out of whatever marijuana businesses he was involved in.
But Rice also lifted a curfew and travel restrictions that had been placed on Zucker following his arrest. He also granted a request that Zucker be released pending the outcome of an appeal of the case, which must be filed within 14 days. Cikutovich said that appeal would be filed timely.
In addition to the prison sentence, Rice ordered a $5,000 fine and four years of supervised release. Zucker embraced his pregnant wife and each of his supporters on the way out of the courtroom Friday morning.
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