The United States now imprisons its own citizens at a rate five times its historical average. Every year, the federal government spends more than $50 billion on its War on Drugs. The government wages this war by surveilling, raiding, prosecuting, and imprisoning hundreds of thousands of people for totally victimless crimes. The War on Drugs overwhelmingly targets the poor and minorities, contributing to the highest incarceration rate in world history and labeling as dangerous criminals people who have never hurt anyone.
In an extreme example of the government’s War on Drugs, a group known as “the Kettle Falls Five” has been federally prosecuted for growing medical marijuana in rural Washington state. The group includes a family — a 71-year-old man, his wife, 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 client) are native members of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe. All five co-defendants possessed valid medical licenses to grow marijuana. Despite such activity being legal under Washington state law, the federal government brought charges that carry a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence per defendant.
After less than one day of deliberation, the jury delivered a resounding rebuke to the federal government’s efforts, acquitting the remaining 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 led the defense team during the trial, which took place at the federal courthouse in Spokane from February 25 through March 3, 2015. 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. Equal Justice Under Law will continue to oppose the government’s excessive War on Drugs — a war that needlessly ravages poor communities throughout our nation.
To see local news coverage of the verdict, click here:
To see CNN’s video coverage, click here:
For more information about the case, visit the following links: