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July 29, 2014

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Washington man says pot cured his pain, but he may get prison term

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Rob Hotakainen / MCT

Larry Harvey, 70, of Kettle Falls, Wash., faces a 10-year prison sentence after federal authorities raided his farm in 2012 and confiscated 44 marijuana plants. He used the drug for his chronic knee pain. He traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to lobby for medical marijuana and is shown here making the rounds on Capitol Hill on May 6, 2014.

Larry Harvey, 70, found a remedy for his gout and chronic knee pain.

"At night that thing just throbs," he said. "But my wife can make a marijuana cookie, just a small one. And I'll eat it and in five minutes, the pain is gone, man. I mean, the pain is gone."

Harvey stopped eating his cookies in August 2012, after federal authorities raided his farm near Kettle Falls, Wash., seizing 44 pot plants, his 2007 Saturn, his guns and $700 in cash.

With his trial set to begin Monday in Spokane, Wash., the retired trucker and commercial fisherman faces a minimum 10-year prison sentence if he's convicted.

"That would be a life sentence for me," Harvey said Tuesday, munching on a salad in the basement cafeteria of a U.S. House of Representatives office building on Capitol Hill. "You might as well take me out and execute me. ... The federal government is going to try to put me in prison for growing my own medicine."

Medical marijuana advocates brought Harvey to Washington, D.C., last week to make his case to members of Congress, saying it's time to legalize the drug for the more than 1 million Americans who use marijuana for medical reasons.

"I just want to make sure Congress knows what's happening so they can fix the law," he said.

While Washington state allows marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes, the state laws mean nothing in Harvey's case. Congress has classified the drug as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning it's deemed to have no medical value. Harvey won't be allowed to use his medical ailments as a defense because of the federal prohibition.

"A lot of people in Washington don't believe this is happening, but you can't deny it anymore — that the policy is completely out of whack — when you have him sitting in front of you," said Kari Boiter, Washington state coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, a group that's lobbying to change the federal law.

Harvey said he didn't believe in using pharmaceutical drugs, dismissing them as chemicals. He said he avoided processed food in favor of the vegetables from his big garden, which his wife canned and frozen. And he said he was a hunter, providing venison, turkeys and grouse for the family.

"We don't buy hardly anything from the store," he said. "I'm living on Social Security, and that 1,200 bucks a month don't go very far."

Harvey said the charges confused him because he had a medical marijuana card from his doctor and never tried to hide his operations. He said he didn't even smoke the pot, only consumed the medicated cookies that were confiscated from his freezer.

"I can't smoke it," he said. "I tried that when I was a kid. It just made me want to go hide in a corner. That ain't for me."

Harvey faces six felony charges: conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, manufacture of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana, possession of a firearm to further a drug-trafficking crime and maintaining a drug-involved premises.

His wife, son, daughter-in-law and a family friend face similar charges in connection with the raid.

"It has just ruined my life," Harvey said. "This last 18 months has been hell."

Derek Franklin, the Washington state coordinator of the anti-legalization group Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) said Congress shouldn't approve medical marijuana, calling it "sort of a gray-market recreational system" that would provide more unregulated access. He said it would be better to get the federal government to quickly approve any medicines that could be made from marijuana components and to have them dispensed at pharmacies.

"There are always going to be heartbreak cases, but that's a separate issue from the policy issue," Franklin said. "I don't like the idea of anyone getting beaten up by the law for something that would seem incongruous, but I think the big fight is on a policy level and the long-term ramifications. It's not as poignant."

While 21 states have passed medical marijuana laws, Boiter said it was clear that patients were on their own in dealing with federal authorities.

"We have individual patients all over this country who are facing the federal government head on, and there's not a single state agency or state official who's standing up for them," she said. "It's on them to fight it."

Harvey scoffed at any notion that the Obama administration is easing up on enforcing federal marijuana laws, even though the U.S. Justice Department is allowing Washington state and Colorado to proceed with their plans to tax and sell marijuana for recreational purposes.

"Not a damn bit," Harvey said. "They got me tarred and feathered and I'm on a rail."

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