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United States v. Chris Williams (2011-present, Helena, MT)

posted Feb 3, 2013, 10:36 PM by The Editor   [ updated Jun 6, 2013, 3:30 AM ]
In March 2011, federal authorities launched a statewide crackdown on Montana medical marijuana providers.  Criminal search warrants were executed on 26 locations in 13 Montana cities on March 14, 2011.  Approximately thirty law enforcement agencies were involved in the raids, which occurred at the culmination of an 18-month investigation.  The raids occurred on the same day that a state Senate committee rejected a bill to repeal Montana’s medical marijuana law.

In February 2012, long after his business was shut down and civil forfeiture proceedings against him had began, Chris Williams was indicted by a grand jury and charged for his involvement in Montana Cannabis, one of the most visible medical marijuana operations in the state.  The indictment came a month after Williams took matters into his own hands and filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal government’s campaign against marijuana. His constitutional challenge was initially dismissed; it is pending now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Chris Williams was the only defendant among the four co-founders of Montana Cannabis to refuse all plea bargains and take his case to trial.  Williams claims to have operated his Helena, MT greenhouse openly and honestly, with oversight from state and local law enforcement, in clear and unambiguous compliance with state law.  In total transparency, local law enforcement and state legislators toured the nursery of Montana Cannabis, as did the documentary film crew for Code of the West.  The DEA destroyed close to 950 plants in the March 2011 raids, which was less than half the number Williams believed he was entitled to grow under Montana's medical marijuana law.  The U.S.  Department of Justice seized $38,000 in cash from Montana Cannabis, a 2008 Ford pickup, a 2006 Chevy Trailblazer, and six guns taken from a shooting range behind the greenhouse at the Helena dispensary.

At trial, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled that possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana remains a federal crime; Montana laws were not pertinent to the defense and were not permitted to be mentioned before the jury.  Williams testified at his four-day trial about farming for Montana Cannabis at their old State Nursery site west of Helena.  His partners Thomas Daubert and Chris Lindsey, who took plea bargains earlier in September, testified at the trial both for the defense and prosecution.  Williams was tried on four felonies related to marijuana cultivation, distribution, and conspiracy, as well as four related charges for possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense.  Williams was found guilty on all eight felony charges by a jury in federal court on September 27, 2012, after six hours of deliberation.

By law, sentences for the four firearms charges had to run consecutively, rendering a minimum mandatory sentence of between 85 and 92 years for the eight felony convictions.  On December 12, 2012, after tens of thousands of White House petition signatures asking to pardon Chris Williams were registered, federal prosecutors agreed to drop six of eight convictions for Chris Williams in exchange for his agreeing to waive his right to appeal. In addition, the government agreed to ask the court to dismiss the $1,728,000 criminal forfeiture awarded to the government by a jury.  As of January 2013, the petition to pardon Chris Williams was closed by the White House with over 29,500 signatures.

Prior to his sentencing, Williams explained his decision to make a post-conviction deal to supporters.  Williams revealed that as he navigated the complex federal penal system, it became clear that punishment was the only thing that was guaranteed.  “With the rest of my life literally hanging in the balance, I simply could not withstand the pressure any longer,” Williams said. “If Judge Christensen shows mercy and limits my sentence to the five year mandatory minimum, I could be present at my 16-year-old son’s college graduation. This would most likely be impossible had I rejected the latest compromise.”

Entering his February 1, 2013 sentencing, Chris Williams faced a maximum sentence of five years for the distribution of marijuana and a mandatory minimum sentence of five years to a maximum of life for the firearms offense.  U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen sentenced Williams to time served on the marijuana charge, and the mandatory minimum of five years in prison on the charge of possession of a firearm during a drug-trafficking offense.  Williams received concurrent supervised probation of four years and five years on the two charges, respectively, as well as a $100 federal assessment on each of the two charges.

Last updated February 3, 2013 by Lex Libreman for WEED WARS:  United States v. Marijuana.


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