A jury convicted Jason Washington of two drug counts, but acquitted him of a firearms charge Thursday in U.S. District Court in Missoula.
Washington, a former University of Montana Grizzlies quarterback, was charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking crime.
Jurors deliberated for about four hours Thursday before returning their verdicts.
Washington’s lawyer, Kwame Manley of Patton Boggs in Washington, D.C., called the verdicts disappointing.
“Mr. Washington has been a law-abiding member of this community for a number of years,” he said. “... We will keep fighting another day to do everything we can to make sure he gets justice.”
Washington’s businesses – a large marijuana grow operation at the Wye, the Big Sky Health medical cannabis dispensary on Reserve Street and his 406 Motoring automotive shop – were raided in November 2011. Those actions followed similar raids at medical marijuana operations around the state in March 2011. Montana’s thriving medical marijuana industry dried up after those raids.
Washington did not testify during the four-day trial. Several of those who testified against him, including former business associates, received immunity.
Manley hammered at that fact during his closing argument Thursday, questioning why Washington was singled out for prosecution.
Manley said one witness had “a clear and unambiguous motive to lie. He’s here to make payment on his get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s 2013 and he’s walking free.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara Elliott said the scenario involving the three businesses “was an ever-changing landscape with people coming and going. But the constant was this defendant.”
Although Manley touched on Washington’s compliance with state medical marijuana regulations, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Six other people along with Washington originally faced the same drug charges in connection with the raids – charges that carry a mandatory minimum penalty of up to five years in prison and a maximum of 40 years, as well as a $5 million fine.
Five of the six pleaded guilty to conspiracy to maintain drug-involved premises; the longest prison sentence handed down was 125 days. The indictment against the sixth person was thrown out.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen did not set a sentencing date Thursday. He allowed Washington to remain free as long as he complies with certain conditions.
Washington played for the Grizzlies in 2005 before being hurt, and sat out the 2006 season because of the injury.