There’s a sign welcoming visitors to a tiny town in northeastern Washington. It reads “Kettle Falls: 1599 Friendly People and One Grouch.” The small Columbia River city with a per capita income of $13,614 boasts of “excitement on the edge of wilderness,” according to its website.

Lately, much of that excitement has come in the form of DEA agents raiding property and federal investigators snooping around the general store for evidence of drug trafficking.

At the center of the sweep are 70-year-old Larry Harvey and his family, who garnered national attention recently after getting a slew of felony trafficking charges for growing marijuana on their property, despite having doctor-assigned medical marijuana papers. But the legally owned hunting rifles Harvey kept at home are the reason why federal prosecutors are seeking trumped-up charges and years in prison.

“At night, we have bears that quite often come down,” Harvey told VICE News, explaining why everyone has guns at home in rural Stevens county, “And this time of year they’re hungry. I’ve got a picture of one of my dogs with his nose all tore up from a bear. One shot in the air and they’re gone.”

The “Kettle Falls Five” trial, as it is known, has been postponed until July 28. But it’s not the only confusing case of its kind. There are several just like it in Eastern Washington: medical marijuana patients who happen to own guns, being slapped with heightened federal felony charges based on weapons connected to drug trafficking.

‘The evidence rule should not be able to trump the truth, that a guy was growing marijuana for medical reasons. The jury should be able to hear the truth.’

If there’s one thing that links all of the eastern Washington federal pot cases, in fact, it’s US Code 924(c), which sets mandatory minimums based on the amount of weapons found in drug cases. The first firearm found in relation to a drug trafficking charge adds an additional 5-10 years to a sentence. After that, each additional gun adds 25 years.

VICE News spoke with attorneys in Seattle, Yakima, and Spokane who cited several cases in which a firearms clause was being used to increase sentencing for medical marijuana patients by as much as 60 years. On top of that, all of the cases are being pursued in federal court, as it’s unlikely they’d have any legal ground to stand on in state court given state laws.

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