Montana medical marijuana grower gets 5 years in federal prison

2013-02-01T20:30:00Z 2014-01-03T18:57:03Z Montana medical marijuana grower gets 5 years in federal prison

Calling certain mandatory minimum sentences “unfair and absurd,” a federal judge Friday sentenced medical marijuana grower Chris Williams to five years in prison – the least amount mandated for his federal gun conviction.

Williams initially was convicted of four charges of possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense, which could have netted mandatory minimums totaling 80 years. He also could have gotten another five years for the four drug counts on which he also was convicted in September.

But, said U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in reviewing the facts of Williams’ case Friday, “it was my belief that an 85-year sentence in this case would have been unjust.”

In December, Christensen successfully urged a compromise that involved the feds dropping three of the gun charges and three drug charges against Williams in exchange for his agreement not to appeal.

“In entering this agreement, basically I feel like I was left with this choice, or an extreme liability of 85 years in prison,” Williams said Friday. “It still hurts that we can’t appeal the issues we set forth in the trial.”

Williams’ case stems from his involvement in Montana Cannabis, a large medical marijuana grow operation with a greenhouse in Helena and operations around the state.

It was one of scores of medical marijuana businesses around Montana that sprang up after voters legalized the medical use of cannabis in 2004. But marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and federal agents raided many of those businesses in March 2011.

All the other people charged in connection with those raids made plea agreements with the government; Williams was the only one to insist upon a trial.

On Friday, he told Christensen, “I feel comfortable putting my life in your hands.”

The judge pointed out, partly for the benefit of about 30 people who crowded the courtroom in support of Williams, that the severe sentences originally facing Williams stemmed almost solely from the gun charges, with penalties increasing for each additional weapons charge.

But all of the many people who wrote Christensen on Williams’ behalf seemed under the impression that he could have been sentenced to 80 years for growing marijuana, the judge said.

In reality, the mandatory minimum on the charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana is only five years, said the judge – who sentenced Williams to the 130 days he’s already served on that particular count.

“Whether we like them or not, mandatory minimums are the law,” Christensens said. “It’s not to suggest that mandatory minimums do not produce unfair and absurd results, because they do.”

The judge also waived a $1.7 million forfeiture in the case, but ordered Williams to pay the standard $100 court fee on each of the two counts for which he was sentenced.

And, he sentenced Williams to four years’ supervised probation on the drug charge, and five years on the gun charge, to run concurrently.


The judge called Williams “a principled man, stubborn in his beliefs, (who) remains steadfast in his conviction that he has done nothing wrong.”

That, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Thaggard – who recommended consecutive five-year sentences on each of the two counts – is part of the problem.

“I don’t see an acceptance of responsibility,” Thaggard said. “That concerns me.”

Williams’ former partners in Montana Cannabis, Richard Flor, Tom Daubert and Chris Lindsey, each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises. Daubert was sentenced to probation; Lindsey has not been sentenced.

Flor was sentenced to five years in prison and died in custody.

On Friday, federal defender Michael Donahoe pointed out that wrangling over sentences in cases where state law and federal law conflict may someday become moot:

“In the next decade, maybe there will be substantial changes in these laws in the nation,” he said. “I think the change is in the offing and I’d ask the court to consider that.”

When Christensen formally pronounced Williams’ sentence, many of his supporters – including one who brought a pug service dog into the courtroom – gasped and wept.

“He has done nothing wrong,” said another, Karie Boiter of Seattle, who described herself as a “full-time supporter of Chris Williams.”

She was among several medical marijuana advocates who traveled in a green school bus from California, picking up people along the way to Missoula, to attend Friday’s sentencing. The group held a brief protest outside the federal courthouse Friday morning.

Boiter said the sentence “is a lot better than 85 years. It’s obvious the judge thought that was egregious.”

Williams was taken immediately into custody Friday. Christensen recommended that he serve his time in the federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., so that he can be as close as possible to his 16-year-old son, a student at Montana State University.

Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268,, or @CopsAndCourts.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(15) Comments

  1. Richard Maloney
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    Richard Maloney - April 02, 2014 10:11 am
    Frankly, the inconsistency in federal policy concerning marijuana ought to come into play, IMO. Looks as though the judge ignored that altogether.

    In Washington state both medical and recreational pot sales get a "pass" from the feds. Although there remains a huge shakeout before we become comfortable regulating weed, thus far the worst thing one could say about legalization is that the banks need to open up to the sellers if we want to track sales and collect taxes. There has been no spike in crime. Buildings here are still standing. Our institutions are seemingly intact.

    Putting this fellow in jail is a miscarriage of justice, and Mr. Unimpeachable Federal Judge will eventually pay for it when he meets his maker. One of the roles of a jurist is to be just in all decisions, and sending this man to prison for five years of his life is unwarranted.
  2. our4th
    Report Abuse
    our4th - February 03, 2013 12:52 pm
    Chris Williams’ defense was Montana’s medical marijuana law. Whose fault was it that he does not know what his basic fundamental rights are as he heads off to prison for political reasons.

    Marijuana remains illegal because the judiciary has determine the constitutionality of the marijuana laws by rational basis. Rational basis is used when no fundamental rights have been declared injured by the defendant from the enforcement of the law.

    Criminalizing marijuana is unreasonable and unnecessary because the private use of marijuana does not threaten the rights of others. There is no victim of a crime. The rights of marijuana users to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures has been violated. Marijuana users have been deprived of life, liberty and property without due process of law. Rational review of criminal laws is deprivation of rights under the color of law.

    Does Mr. Williams’ lawyer believe Chris is a non person and not entitled to equal protection of Amendments IV and V? Try Declaratory Judgment. Just make sure you claim the law deprived you of your right to liberty to question the reasonableness of the marijuana laws you were convicted of.
  3. Ookmon
    Report Abuse
    Ookmon - February 03, 2013 12:03 am
    Mandatory Minimums are a desecration of justice and the ability for a judge to merit out appropriate sentencing.
    A true travesty of justice.
    No Justice
    No Peace
  4. Bones
    Report Abuse
    Bones - February 02, 2013 10:43 am
    Juries don't do sentencing?
  5. Joseph From Missoula
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    Joseph From Missoula - February 02, 2013 9:00 am
    Once the federal government removes marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, we'll be able to launch studies on the mental affects of the drug, as the central reason for smoking weed is its high, and scientists need to check that out. When they do, they'll discover that, among other things, marijuana is nature's antidote to the discordant stresses brought by modern civilization. It also helps one ponder life's events in different ways.
    Un Marijuano desde 1964
  6. The_Boneshackler
    Report Abuse
    The_Boneshackler - February 02, 2013 8:55 am
    Let me get this straight. A person is trying to run a job-creating business that is allowed under State law (yeah, I know...bad Federal laws trump common-sense State laws). He is subject to the full force of the Federal Government charging him with trumped up gun charges in order to make an example of him to anyone who dares challenge America's vast Prison Industrial Complex and the unwanted (and unconstitutional) Prohibition that feeds it.

    A massive banking cartel knowingly launders hundreds of Billions of dollars in Mexican drug cartel and TERRORIST monies, escapes prosecution entirely, and has the common stockholders pay a token fine (your 401K will take a hit).

    America really has become a Banana Republic.
  7. Montana Joe
    Report Abuse
    Montana Joe - February 01, 2013 8:24 pm
    Just as expected. Federal law trumps State. But really the issue her is they guy refused to cooperate and his time if not even for pot its for guns. If it was truly a "legal" medicine than it needs to be taxed, regulated and dispensed like every other medicine. I can't get ear ache medicine from a corner dispensary why should other get pot for their so called ailments.
  8. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - February 01, 2013 8:07 pm
    That's an outrageous sentence for a victimless crime. What's wrong with the jury?
  9. JacksonB
    Report Abuse
    JacksonB - February 01, 2013 6:02 pm
    Just goes to show, you fight the law, especially the Fed's and the law wins! Just because you don't believe it should be illegal, it still is illegal.
  10. GaryTinkSanders
    Report Abuse
    GaryTinkSanders - February 01, 2013 4:53 pm
    Our current law has turned the black market into a viable industry filling the pockets of hoods and thugs that should be behind bars (I am also referring to federal laws and the designation as a schedule 1 drug) but instead they are persecuting people who were following a fragmented law.
  11. GaryTinkSanders
    Report Abuse
    GaryTinkSanders - February 01, 2013 4:44 pm
    This is what happens when you have an over reaching federal government and local sheriff's that won't tell the feds to take a hike. If a sheriff refuses to let the feds confiscate firearms they should also tell the feds to take a hike when it comes to Montana's medical marijuana laws. The current laws are just a hack job to try to cripple the program, Montana needs a clear concise medical marijuana law that works for the people and not against them.
  12. old farmer
    Report Abuse
    old farmer - February 01, 2013 3:51 pm
    Do you really trust the fed's when it comes to any kind of gun control?
  13. wes d
    Report Abuse
    wes d - February 01, 2013 3:15 pm
    What a tragedy. Lust like Roswal said, sex offenders get less than this! A non-violent, victim-less "crime" in the penitentiary for 5 yrs?! What a shame.
  14. sofaking tired of the GOP
    Report Abuse
    sofaking tired of the GOP - February 01, 2013 2:53 pm
    Nice let's spend about 100K in tax dollars to put this guy away for 5 years for providing something that is readily available anyway on the black market.
  15. Roswal
    Report Abuse
    Roswal - February 01, 2013 1:53 pm
    Glad to hear they did not go for the 85 year option... but still ludicrous that he gets 5 when we they let rapists and sex offenders out with even less. Non-violent offenders should not be taking up space and spending our tax money in prison.
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