Defending Against the Government’s War on Drugs and the Landmark Prosecution of the Kettle Falls Five

Every year, the federal government spends more than $50 billion on its War on Drugs, which overwhelmingly targets the poor and minorities, contributing to the highest incarceration rate in world history.

Our Clients, The Kettle Falls Five

Equal Justice Under Law represents a family — known in the media as the Kettle Falls Five — prosecuted by the federal government for growing medical marijuana. The group includes a family — a mom, her husband, her adult son, and the son’s wife — along with a family friend who signed an eleventh-hour plea deal with the government in exchange for offering testimony against the family. Every member of the family is indigent, none has any criminal history, and two members of the family (including Equal Justice Under Law’s clients) are native members of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe.  Sadly, the father — a 71-year old man — passed away last year from cancer.

All five co-defendants possessed valid medical licenses to grow marijuana. Even though all family members had state-sanctioned medical authorizations in Washington State, the federal government sought mandatory minimum sentences of ten years to life.

Leading the Defense

Equal Justice Under Law led the defense team during the trial, which took place at the federal courthouse in Spokane from February 25 through March 3, 2015. After less than one day of deliberation, the jury the acquitted the defendants on 4 out of 5 counts. The jury delivered “not guilty” verdicts on all of the most serious counts, including Conspiracy to Violate Drug Trafficking Laws, Distribution of Marijuana, Use of Firearms in Furtherance of Drug Trafficking, and Maintaining a Drug-Involved Premise. The jury also rejected the federal government’s charge of Manufacturing 100 or More Marijuana Plants — which would have carried a five-year mandatory minimum sentence — and only convicted the defendants of the lesser-included charge of Manufacturing Less than 100 Marijuana Plants — which carries no minimum sentence.

Equal Justice Under Law continues to defend that sole remaining lesser-included offense on appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

This landmark prosecution will have significant ramifications for the scope of the War on Drugs and has the potential to set important constitutional limits on the government’s efforts to imprison people without compelling justification.

DOJ Agrees with Defense

On October 16, 2017, the Department of Justice filed a brief confirming that the family in the so-called was in strict compliance with state law. Therefore, the DOJ has also confirmed that they were not authorized to spend money on the prosecution of the defendants because, starting in December 2014, Congress denied funding for such prosecutions in states where medical marijuana is lawful.

Read the DOJ’s brief — admitting they did not have authorization to pursue charges — here: DOJ Brief October 16 2017.

Selected Media Coverage
(for additional media coverage, please contact our Communications Department at


“Kettle Falls Five Defendants Acquitted on Four of Five Charges” by John Hendricks on KXLY, news radio in Spokane Washington

“Federal Charges Where Pot is Legal?!” on CNN


“Kettle Falls Five Appeal Could Decide Battle Between Congress and DOJ” for Medical Marijuana 411 on May 23, 2017

“Federal Court Bars Justice Department From Prosecuting Medical Cannabis” by Ben Adlin for Leafly on August 16, 2016

“Looming Marijuana Ruling Could Limit Federal Prosecutions” by Sudhin Thanawala for the Associated Press on May 8, 2016

Larry Harvey of Kettle Falls Five Loses Battle to Pancreatic Cancer” by Meghan Ridley for Medical Marijuana 411 on August 22, 2015

“Defense Attorney, Phil Telfeyan, on the Kettle Falls Five Case” on CrowdDefund on May 12, 2015

“Family Guilty of Growing Pot; Acquitted of Other Charges” by Trevor Hughes for USA Today on March 3, 2015

“Eager to Imprison Medical Marijuana Users, Prosecutors Hide the Truth From Jurors” by Jacob Sullum for Forbes on January 29, 2015

“Lock ‘Em Up Nation: Mandatory Sentencing for Medical Marijuana” by Timothy Egan for The New York Times on June 26, 2014

“Pot Growers Face Charges – in a State Where Pot is Legal” by Jolie Lee for USA Today on May 19, 2014

“Federal Judge Says No to Washington Family’s Medical Marijuana Defense” by Matt Ferner for The Huffington Post on May 6, 2014

“A Washington Family Faces 20 Years in Federal Prison. Their Crime? Legally Growing Medical Marijuana” by Lisa Rough for Leafly


Go here to help end federal prosecutions of people who hold valid medical licenses in states where marijuana is legal