Larry Harvey poses for a photo outside the federal courthouse in Spokane, Wash., on Feb. 12, 2015. Harvey, 71, was among a group of defendants known as the "Kettle Falls Five" in a federal case involving medical marijuana growers in rural Washington state. (Dan Pelle, The Spokesman-Review via AP)

Washington man at center of high-profile federal medical pot case dies

Larry Harvey, who had pancreatic cancer, and four others faced federal charges after they were caught growing medical marijuana on their rural property near Kettle Falls

COLVILLE, Wash. — A northeastern Washington man at the center of a nationally watched medical marijuana case has died of pancreatic cancer, six months after the federal government dropped charges against him.

Larry Harvey was 71. He died Thursday in a hospital in Colville, Washington.

Harvey and four others — including his wife, two relatives and a friend — faced charges after they were caught about three years ago growing about 70 pot plants on their rural property near Kettle Falls. They were known as the “Kettle Falls Five.”

Harvey said he used the drug to ease pain from gout, but the government argued that the operation did not comply with the state’s medical marijuana law.

The case outraged medical marijuana advocates because Harvey faced at least 10 years in prison. Also, while marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, its recreational and medical use is legal in Washington.

Kari Boiter, a medical marijuana patient who traveled twice with Harvey to Washington, D.C., to protest what cannabis advocates saw as overzealous prosecution, described him as a fighter.

“I think people are really sad that he’s gone, because they all drew a lot of hope and courage from the way he stood up for his beliefs,” she said. “At the same time, they’re honoring the sacrifices that he made.”

She said that due in part to his lobbying efforts, a federal spending freeze was enacted in late 2014 to prohibit U.S. Department of Justice money from being spent to block implementation of state medical marijuana laws.

Harvey was dismissed from the case in February after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in December. Another defendant cut a plea deal. The rest were found guilty of growing pot, but they were exonerated of more serious charges.

He is survived by his wife, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey of Colville; his mother, Doreen Harvey of Sumas, Washington; and three children.