Petitions seek to free Montana medical marijuana figure

2012-11-23T03:15:00Z 2014-04-07T19:27:17Z Petitions seek to free Montana medical marijuana figureBy GWEN FLORIO of the Missoulian missoulian.com
November 23, 2012 3:15 am  • 

Medical marijuana grower Chris Williams is seeking a new trial after being convicted in a federal drug and weapons case that carries the potential for a prison sentence of up to 92 years. He’s appealing, but his supporters aren’t waiting for the justice system.

They’ve taken his cause to the Internet, in the form of online petitions filed with the White House, with SignOn.org, and with Care2.com. Together, they’ve gathered close to 40,000 signatures nationwide.

“The sentence shocks the conscience,” said Chris Lindsey, a former business partner of Williams who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to a federal drug conspiracy charge. Williams rejected a similar plea agreement.

“Look at (former Penn State assistant football coach) Jerry Sandusky,” Lindsey said. “For 45 counts of child sexual abuse, he gets 30 years. Chris Williams is going to get three times that for being a medical marijuana provider. It doesn’t make any logical sense.”

Lindsey said he’s signed “a few” of the petitions to pardon Williams. Others may have signed multiple petitions, too. But the action likely is largely symbolic.

Lindsey points out that petitioning a judge – one petition at MoveOn’s SignOn site and another at Care2 are addressed to U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen of Missoula – is probably ineffective because judges are so limited by sentencing guidelines.

The White House petition that seeks a full pardon for Williams goes straight to President Barack Obama, who’s pardoned fewer people – just 22, and one commutation – than any president since John Adams, NPR reported Wednesday, citing numbers provided by P.S. Ruckman Jr., a Rock Valley (Ill.) College professor who studies pardons.

“Do people think Chris Williams is going to be the guy to change that?” Lindsey asked.

***

Williams was among several people in Montana indicted on federal drug offenses after federal agents raided large medical marijuana operations around the state in March 2011. Montana voters legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2004. Medical cannabis businesses proliferated around the state after a 2009 federal memo that many interpreted as saying the feds would back off prosecuting such operations.

Most of those indicted after the 2011 raids accepted plea agreements, usually involving conspiracy charges. Sentences have ranged from a few years in prison to probation, the latter most notably in the case of Tom Daubert, a partner with Lindsey and Williams at Montana Cannabis in Helena.

But Williams insisted upon a trial, and in September a federal jury in Helena convicted him of eight drug and weapons charges. Afterward, U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter of Montana offered to drop six of those charges if Williams waived his right to appeal his conviction and sentencing – an unusual move that would have reduced his potential sentence to 10 years.

As with the plea offers, Williams turned down that one, too.

His stance throughout has been that because Montana Cannabis operated legally under state law, the feds had no business prosecuting him, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

“I have decided to fight the federal government, because for me not defending the things that I know are right is dishonorable,” Williams wrote in a letter to the Helena Independent Record last month. “Every citizen has a responsibility to fight for what is right, even if it seems like the struggle will be lost.”

His federal defender, Michael Donahoe, is fighting via the system. On Tuesday, he filed a second request for a new trial for Williams on at least five of the charges, saying a ruling Monday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals provides a path for that trial.

***

During the legal machinations, Williams remains in a private prison in Shelby.

One of the petitions, which collected more than 2,300 signatures, urged Christensen to release him while he awaits word on a new trial. But U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Keith Strong ruled last week he won’t be released pending appeal.

As for the other petitions on his behalf, appeals to the White House must gather 25,000 signatures within 30 days to be considered. As of Wednesday afternoon, about 19,000 people had signed the Williams petition, which has a Dec. 12 deadline.

Five of the top 10 petitions to the White House involve legalizing marijuana and none has been approved, the Wall Street Journal reported this past summer.

Two different SignOn petitions also ask Obama to pardon Williams. By Wednesday afternoon, one petition – started on Nov. 10 by a Palmdale, Calif., resident – had collected about 150 signatures of the 200 sought. The other was launched Nov. 9 by a Seeley Lake resident, and had 72 signatures of the 100 sought.

“I don’t even use marijuana and I fully support the pardoning of Chris Williams and any other people that have been prosecuted for possession or growing it,” wrote a Long Island City, N.Y., woman.

Meanwhile, the Care2 petition asking Christensen to reverse Williams’ conviction has collected nearly 19,000 signatures since it launched Nov. 15.

Such petitions, whether they help Williams or not, “are a way to organization in a non-election setting,” said Bob Brigham, who was the campaign manager for Patients for Reform, Not Repeal.

That group sought unsuccessfully to roll back stringent controls on medical marijuana enacted by the 2011 Legislature.

Signing a petition “is one of the things that advocates can be doing before the next election to push the issue,” Brigham said.

Seventeen states have legalized the medical use of marijuana in some form, and in the most recent election, voters in Colorado and Washington approved its recreational use.

Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com or @CopsAndCourts.

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

(11) Comments

  1. freedom11
    Report Abuse
    freedom11 - November 26, 2012 12:11 am
    Weed as a recreational drug isn't viewed as a positive force in society. But our 40-year-long "drug war" has obviously FAILED. There are prudish old-timers who still feel the need to jail people over this issue, but in an environment where state budgets are tight, can we really AFFORD to lock people up for marijuana? Maybe bust a few of the top dealers for tax evasion, but locking someone away for having a few ounces is punitive for no good reason. http://www.kratom-k.com
  2. FreeChrisWilliams
    Report Abuse
    FreeChrisWilliams - November 23, 2012 9:59 pm
    For those who would like to join 40,000 others who've signed petitions to Free Chris Williams, here are the links:
    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/231/267/645/
    https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/grant-full-pardon-chris-williams-man-facing-80-years-prison-legally-growing-medical-marijuana/PgtWfvFg
    http://signon.org/sign/judge-christensen-please

    For clarity's sake - this article references a post-trial compromise offered to Chris by U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter. The reporter is correct that Cotter offered to drop six of eight charges in exchange for Chris agreeing not to appeal his conviction. However, the deal would not have "reduced his potential sentence to 10 years." The compromise called for Chris to serve "as little as 10 years" and prosecutors have since admitted via court documents that under the agreement, they reserved the right to argue for a prison sentence of up to 50 years! Supporters applaud Chris for refusing to settle for a "deal" that could have left him to rot in prison until he was more than 80 years old, if he lives that long.

    Chris is currently imprisoned at Cascade County Detention Center in Great Falls, NOT the private prison in Shelby as reported. Although we expect he could get moved back to Shelby (or somewhere else) at any given moment, since he's already been shipped back and forth between Great Falls and Shelby more than once since his conviction less than two months ago. MORE taxpayer dollars WASTED on making life miserable for Chris and his loved ones. Montanans should be outraged - along with the rest of the world!
  3. live and let live
    Report Abuse
    live and let live - November 23, 2012 8:18 pm
    End Prohibition
  4. Bandit218
    Report Abuse
    Bandit218 - November 23, 2012 4:00 pm
    Anybody who thinks the medical marijuana community was regulated last year is kidding themselves. When Feds come into some of these places and confiscate hundreds of thousands in cash, there is no regulation. There is no taxation on a cash transaction that ends up in a guys closet. It was chaos.
  5. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - November 23, 2012 12:11 pm
    Jury Nullification?! That means they refuse to convict. They did that, they convicted him already. They upheld the laws of the land, the Federal ones. They didn't nullify them...
  6. seeker1956
    Report Abuse
    seeker1956 - November 23, 2012 10:04 am
    I just don't get it! MT passes a program where people give their names, addresses and phone numbers to the state then grow marijuana for sick people (and maybe some who aren't so sick, but have cards). In any case, I seriously doubt that Mr. Williams was selling to minors in school yards or back alleys knowing he was under the scrutiny of state (and ultimately, federal) law enforcement. Why on earth should we taxpayers foot his bill for federal prison? He was following state law, and was no threat to society. Yes, he had guns at his business, but so do convenience stores. You can bet that the black market has moved in to take over all of those he provided for, and more. Including kids in the alleys and on the playgrounds. Wake up, Montana and America! It's time for legal regulation of marijuana. Chris Williams is no threat to society, and the crime here is for US to be paying for his incarceration!
  7. montanamuralist
    Report Abuse
    montanamuralist - November 23, 2012 9:47 am
    Doesn't matter what our preference is as far as the law. All is decided for us and if a state oversteps their guidelines...well, here is the result. Really a disgrace. I am not a pot user myself but really want it available for those who need it for medicine. The mistake Montana made was leaving it up to this worthless Tea Party Legislature we have to institute guidelines that are fair. They ( Tea Party _) doesn't care what the people want either. Obama needs to get off his butt and fix this. One of the reasons I voted for him was to have common sense...this would be one of those situations...and also quit spending federal dollars chasing these guys around when we have much more important work to be doing....
  8. Gman
    Report Abuse
    Gman - November 23, 2012 9:14 am
    It's nice to know that the prison system is alive and well. We'll pay the tab for his incarceration for years to come and maybe with all that prison job training, we’ll turn a tax paying citizen into a career criminal. Another job well done by our Legislators, and the so called justice system.
  9. BWO
    Report Abuse
    BWO - November 23, 2012 8:49 am
    The prison industrial complex is robbing taxpayers and putting our citizens in jail.
  10. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - November 23, 2012 6:26 am
    Hey, you live in America. Federal law trumps State law, even in Montana. If you wanted to grow something, grow food, not dope. Also, before my vertigo throws me off my soapbox, how's about we look at mandatory sentencing? Get rid of them. This guy shouldn't go to prison for 92 years. Don't know what the mandatory "minimum sentencing" laws are in this case, but sounds like the Judge has his hands tied. If we the people think a particular Judge is too lenient, vote him out of office, don't put guys like this through the ringer. He ought to get a dunce cap in civics, a slap on the wrist, and make a donation to someone whose relative has been killed by a driver under the influence...
  11. knowa
    Report Abuse
    knowa - November 23, 2012 5:05 am
    The evils that these Laws have cause,is causing and will cause and it carnage, suffering and destruction is so much against America's founding principles. And the Hijacking of our Constitution by these self serving Prohibitionist profiteers, Law enforcers and Politicals is ungodly. We can only hope for Obama to do the right thing or Jury Nullification. Also“Please sign the White House petition to let Marc Emery complete his sentence in Canada
    http://wh.gov/XXp9”
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