Jason Washington is a free man.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled Wednesday the former University of Montana quarterback who was sentenced last year to two years in federal prison for operating a medical marijuana business won’t spend any more time behind bars.
Christensen said the purposes of his 24-month sentence had been fulfilled and resentenced Washington to time served, freeing him three months before his original January release date.
“I know you believe you’ve been treated unfairly in this case,” Christensen told Washington after handing down the lighter sentence. “My hope is that maybe we all can find a way to bring this to an end and move on with our respective lives.”
Christensen’s decision was met with an emotional reaction from Washington’s family members, including his mother Charlene Washington, who said she was hoping for such an outcome.
Washington’s case went to trial after law enforcement raided medical marijuana businesses across the state in 2011. Washington’s Missoula businesses, the Big Sky Health medical marijuana dispensary and 406 Motoring automotive shop, were raided that November after federal agencies tapped his phone as part of an investigation.
Washington didn’t take the stand during his four-day trial in January 2013, but several witnesses who testified against him received immunity. Washington was found guilty of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
Five other people faced drug charges in connection with the raids, but pleaded guilty to conspiracy to maintain drug-involved premises. The longest sentence handed down was 125 days. An indictment against a sixth person was thrown out.
In May 2013, Christensen sentenced Washington to two years in prison – three years less than the state’s minimum requirement. Christensen ruled Washington was eligible for the shorter sentence due to a law allowing defendants to receive less time if they met certain criteria, including that:
• The defendant doesn’t have a criminal history.
• The defendant didn’t use violence or credible threats, or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon in connection with the offense.
• The offense didn’t result in death or serious bodily injury.
• The defendant wasn’t an organizer, leader, manager or supervisor of others in the offense, as determined under the sentencing guidelines, and wasn’t engaged in continuing the criminal enterprise.
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• The defendant truthfully cooperated with the government, providing all information and evidence.
Washington’s sentence was immediately appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by federal prosecutors, who argued he didn’t meet the criteria. In particular, Tara Elliott, the federal prosecutor who filed the appeal, claimed Washington was an organizer and leader in the business.
“Washington organized, owned and operated an industrial marijuana grow with more than 1,000 plants and two dispensaries in western Montana,” Elliott wrote in her sentencing memorandum. “He employed numerous people to help with his business.”
In a decision released in June, the appellate judges sided with prosecutors and sent the case back to Christensen for reconsideration.
At the resentencing hearing Wednesday afternoon, Christensen rejected the prosecutors’ argument and judges’ decision, ruling that Washington was only attempting to engage in a medical marijuana business and he ran that business in an “open way.”
He noted that two other men, one of whom was never indicted, were the business’s initial operators and backed Washington financially.
“In my mind, Mr. Washington was more of a recruit, than a recruiter in this business,” he said.
Christensen further explained the evidence doesn’t suggest that Washington exercised a heightened leadership role, but worked alongside experts and consultants who were all independently drawn to the business.
“There’s no evidence that the accomplices … that any of them were recruited by Mr. Washington, rather they were individuals who were interested in working in the medical marijuana industry,” he said.
Elliott told the court the government would reserve the right to appeal the new sentence.
Christensen remanded Washington into the custody of the U.S. Marshals, who took him to the Missoula County jail to fill out paperwork. His family expected him to be released Wednesday night or Thursday.
Washington played for the Montana Grizzlies in 2005 before getting injured and sitting out the 2006 season.