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ASA Media Specialist Kris Hermes 510-681-6361 or ASA Washington State Coordinator Kari Boiter 206-612-0916
In an unexpected verdict today, the jury in a widely watched federal medical marijuana case from eastern Washington State, known as the Kettle Falls Five, acquitted the three remaining defendants of all but one charge of manufacturing less than 100 marijuana plants. The charge carries no mandatory minimum sentence and defendants Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 56, her son Rolland Gregg, 33, and daughter-in-law Michelle Gregg, 36, remain free until sentencing on June 10th at 10am.
In a prosecution and week-long trial that used up roughly $2 million, the Obama Administration aggressively pursued marijuana trafficking charges against a family of patients who claimed to have been growing for themselves in full compliance with Washington State's medical marijuana law. The Department of Justice (DOJ) also chose to try them in defiance of a recent Congressional ban on DOJ interference in the implementation of state law.
Before the trial even began, the federal government agreed to dismiss charges against Larry Harvey, 71, a co-defendant who was recently diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, but the DOJ fought against the dismissal of charges against the remaining defendants. Co-defendant and family friend Jason Zucker, 39, took a plea deal one day before trial began and agreed to testify for the government against the three remaining defendants in exchange for a felony conspiracy conviction and a recommended sentence of 16 months.
"The jury saw through the deceit of the federal government and rightly acquitted on almost all charges," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson with Americans for Safe Access. "This should signal to the Department of Justice that prosecutions such as the Kettle Falls Five are a waste of time and money and, if anything, should be left to state courts." Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, the government exercised its prosecutorial discretion to exclude all evidence from trial related to medical necessity and compliance with state law.
In August 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the Harvey property in rural Washington State near the town of Kettle Falls and seized 68 marijuana plants, charging the five with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, manufacture and distribution of marijuana, maintaining a drug-involved premises, and possession of firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
In a cynical prosecutorial move by the DOJ to aggregate multiple years of alleged cultivation in order to charge the defendants with more than 100 plants, carrying a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence for each of them. However, the jury rejected the government's argument and found them guilty of cultivating less than 100 plants, which carries no mandatory minimum sentence. The government also sought gun charges that carry another 5-year mandatory minimum despite the fact that the guns found on the Harvey property were used for hunting and protection from wild animals. Each defendant was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Americans for Safe Access is the nation's largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.
"It's become apparent that no corporation or CEO is going to save local news, it's up to journalists to preserve our industry and our democracy," said unionized journalists at The Arizona Republic.
As shareholders gathered at the annual meeting of Gannett, the largest newspaper company in the United States following a 2019 merger, hundreds of unionized employees from across the country walked off the job on Monday to demand investors take action against what the journalists say is corporate greed at the top of the organization.
The journalists, who are represented by the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America (CWA), say CEO and chairman Mike Reed has overseen the gutting of local newsrooms across the country at Gannett's more than 300 publications, jeopardizing readers' access to local news and threatening the livelihoods of reporters while Reed collects a multi-million-dollar salary.
With the walkout, the unionized employees are calling on shareholders to hold a no-confidence vote against Reed.
In a letter to investors last month, the NewsGuild-CWA argued that Reed has "failed shareholders" by taking on debt with high interest rates when Gannett merged with GateHouse Media in 2019.
While taking home a $7.7 million salary in in 2021 and $3.4 million last year, Reed has "maintained a compensation policy that is forcing many of our journalists to seek work elsewhere," the union wrote.
"From a shareholder perspective, these cuts to local news reporters and local news don't just weaken civil society, they diminish the future of that company in the community."
"He has reduced local content by relying on wire service and regional stories [and] cut newsroom staff," the NewsGuild said. "As a result, our communities are not being served and our employees are demoralized. Therefore, we believe it is time for a change in leadership: a clear vote of no-confidence in a guy who has weakened our company, forsaken the towns and cities where we have outlets, and impoverished shareholders."
In order to cut costs to service the company's debt, The New York Times reported Monday, Gannett has cut its workforce nearly in half since 2019. The Austin American-Statesman now has 41 newsroom employees, down from 110 before the merger. The Milwaukee Sentinel's staff has been cut from 104 to 83 in that time period; The South Bend Tribune's was cut from 45 to just 14 in South Bend, Indiana; and The Arizona Republic in Phoenix has cut its workforce from 140 to 89.
Gannett has also closed dozens of newspapers entirely, including six weekly publications in the Akron, Ohio area this past February and four papers in Northern Kentucky last year.
Cost-cutting measures have left readers of The Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York without a business section; The Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida without dedicated reporters focusing on the environment or city government; and just one reporter at TheAmerican-Statesman covering issues related to City Hall, Travis County, transportation, and public safety.
"We know what happens to communities when the light from news outlets dims,"
said the NewsGuild last month. "Political extremism can surge, corruption has fewer watchdogs, high school sports have fewer chroniclers, corporate misconduct has fewer witnesses, and municipal borrowing costs can rise. From a shareholder perspective, these cuts to local news reporters and local news don't just weaken civil society, they diminish the future of that company in the community."
The shareholder meeting and walkout come five months after Gannett laid of 6% of its 3,440-employee media division.
Richard Ruelas, a columnist at The Arizona Republic, organized a crowd-sourced fundraiser to support employees as they stage the walkout, which they plan to continue on Tuesday at the newspaper.
While cutting jobs across the company, said the
Arizona Republic Guild, Gannett officials have refused to provide remaining journalists with fair wages and working conditions.
\u201cGannett claims it's going to "save journalism." We're not sure how overworking and underpaying journalists accomplishes that goal.\n\nIt's become apparent that no corporation or CEO is going to save local news, it's up to journalists to preserve our industry and our democracy.\u201d— Arizona Republic Guild \ud83c\udf35 (@Arizona Republic Guild \ud83c\udf35) 1685630391
"After over three years of bargaining and repeated unfair labor practices, it's also become apparent that asking nicely isn't going to get us fair wages, benefits and protections for our newsroom, and that Gannett has no intention to bargain over these issues in good faith,"
said the union.
According to Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild, Reed oversaw a "complete farce" at the shareholder meeting on Monday, ending the conference after just eight minutes and refusing to take questions.
"What a complete joke. Mike Reed needs to go,"
said Schleuss. "He has no ability to lead Gannett and no ability to be accountable to journalists or shareholders."
"We are now at a crossroads between being an authoritarian and a democratic country," said one activist.
An estimated 500,000 people took to the streets of the capital Warsaw and other Polish cities on Sunday to protest the nation's far-right government, which has assailed reproductive freedoms, attacked the rights of LGBTQ+ people, and cracked down on critical civil society groups and media outlets.
Sunday's march against the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party—which has held power since 2015—was called by former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who is leading the Civic Platform opposition party into an expected October general election.
"Here's my pledge to you today: We are going to win this election and hold PiS accountable," Tusk told a crowd gathered in Warsaw.
The Associated Pressreported that "the passage of a contentious law last month seems to have mobilized greater support for Tusk."
The law, signed by right-wing President Andrzej Duda, "allows for the creation of a commission to investigate Russian influence in Poland," AP noted. "Critics argue that it would have unconstitutional powers, including the capacity to exclude officials from public life for a decade. They fear it will be used by the ruling party to remove Tusk and other opponents from public life."
Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram, a lawyer and rights activist, toldThe Guardian ahead of Sunday's protests that the new measure "is against Tusk but we can all be targeted by this law, because they will not hesitate to use it against anyone."
"It is the culmination of the authoritarian system developed in Poland over the past eight years. We are now at a crossroads between being an authoritarian and a democratic country.”
\u201cPierwszym krokiem do zrzucenia niewoli jest by\u0107 odwa\u017cnym, aby by\u0107 wolnym. Pierwszym krokiem do zwyci\u0119stwa jest pozna\u0107 si\u0119 na w\u0142asnej sile.\n\nJeste\u015bmy tutaj dzisiaj, \u017ceby ca\u0142a Polska, ca\u0142a Europa, ca\u0142y \u015bwiat, \u017ceby wszyscy zobaczyli, jak jeste\u015bmy silni!\u201d— Donald Tusk (@Donald Tusk) 1685878134
Described as among the largest political demonstrations in Poland in decades, Sunday's march came amid growing alarm over the Polish government's ongoing assault on basic rights.
As Amnesty Internationalsummarized in its 2022 report on the country: "Access to abortion was further limited. Criminal charges were used to curtail freedom of expression. The authorities continued to erode the independence of the judiciary. Freedom of peaceful assembly was restricted. Violations of LGBTI rights persisted. Positive moves were made to accommodate between 1 and 2 million refugees from Ukraine, although official hostility continued towards refugees and migrants who arrived since 2021 via Belarus."
"One of these individuals is a seven-year-old boy in remission from Leukemia who is now unable to access follow-up—and potentially lifesaving—treatments," said local advocacy groups.
Hundreds of thousands of poor Floridians have been kicked off Medicaid in recent weeks as their Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, travels the country for his 2024 presidential bid and rakes in campaign cash from big donors.
Florida is one of more than a dozen states that have begun unwinding pandemic-era rules barring states from removing people from Medicaid during the public health emergency. Late last year, Congress reached a bipartisan deal to end the so-called continuous coverage requirements, opening the door to a massive purge of the lifesaving healthcare program.
A dozen states have released early data on the number of people removed from Medicaid as they restart eligibility checks, a cumbersome process that many people ultimately fail to navigate.
So far, the statistics are alarming: More than 600,000 people across the U.S. have been stripped of Medicaid coverage since April, according to a KFF Health Newsanalysis of the available data, and "the vast majority were removed from state rolls for not completing paperwork" rather than confirmed ineligibility.
Nearly 250,000 people who have been booted from Medicaid live in Florida, whose governor is a longtime opponent of public healthcare programs. As HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn wrote Sunday, DeSantis "has refused to support the ACA's Medicaid expansion for the state, which is the biggest reason that more than 12% of Floridians don't have health insurance."
"That's the fourth-highest rate in the country," Cohn noted.
But DeSantis, who has said he wants to "make America Florida," appears unmoved by the staggering number of people losing Medicaid in his state as he hits the campaign trail. The governor relied heavily on large contributors to bring in more than $8 million during the first 24 hours of his presidential bid.
Prior to formally launching his 2024 campaign, DeSantis traveled the country in private jets on the dime of rich and sometimes secret donors, and he is currently facing a Federal Election Commission complaint for unlawfully transferring more than $80 million from a state committee to a super PAC supporting his White House bid.
"Families with children have been erroneously terminated, and parents are having trouble reaching the DCF call center for help with this process."
Late last month, DeSantis' administration insisted it "has a robust outreach campaign" aimed at ensuring people are aware of the hoops they have to jump through to keep their Medicaid coverage, such as income verification.
In Florida, a four-person household must make less than $39,900 in annual income to qualify for Medicaid.
The state's early data indicates that 44% of those who have lost coverage in weeks were removed for procedural reasons like failing to return paperwork on time.
The figures have drawn outrage from local advocates, who urged DeSantis late last month to pause the Medicaid redetermination process after hearing reports of people losing coverage without receiving any notice from Florida's chronically understaffed Department of Children and Families (DCF).
"One of these individuals is a seven-year-old boy in remission from Leukemia who is now unable to access follow-up—and potentially lifesaving—treatments," a coalition of groups including the Florida Policy Institute and the Florida Health Justice Project wrote to DeSantis. "Families with children have been erroneously terminated, and parents are having trouble reaching the DCF call center for help with this process. Additionally, unclear notices and lack of information on how to appeal contribute to more confusion."
Citing Miriam Harmatz, advocacy director and founder of the Florida Health Justice Project, KFF Health Newsreported last week that "some cancellation notices in Florida are vague and could violate due process rules."
"Letters that she's seen say 'your Medicaid for this period is ending' rather than providing a specific reason for disenrollment, like having too high an income or incomplete paperwork," the outlet noted. "If a person requests a hearing before their cancellation takes effect, they can stay covered during the appeals process. Even after being disenrolled, many still have a 90-day window to restore coverage."
The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that, nationwide, around 15.5 million people are likely to lose Medicaid coverage over the next year and a half—including 5 million children—as states resume eligibility checks made necessary by a system that doesn't guarantee healthcare to all as a right.
"Many people don't realize that they've been disenrolled from Medicaid until they show up at the pharmacy to get their prescription refilled or they have a doctor's appointment scheduled," Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation, toldThe Washington Post last week.