Pubdate: Sat, 05 Jan 2013
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2013 Helena Independent Record
Author: Jenna Cederberg, Missoulian


Had Faced Up To 20 Years In Prison

MISSOULA -- A federal judge spared a former partner in one of
Montana's largest medical marijuana businesses jail time on Friday,
straying only slightly from a joint sentencing recommendation by
defense and prosecuting attorneys.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen sentenced Chris Lindsey to five
years' probation with three months of house arrest, reducing the house
arrest time from the six months suggested in the plea deal reached by
federal prosecutors and Lindsey's attorney, Colin Stephens.

"You know, considering what I could have faced I think it was a happy
resolution," Lindsey said after the sentencing.

Lindsey, who in the past used medical marijuana to treat a chronic
disease and considers himself a medical marijuana advocate, faced up
to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to maintain
drug premises.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard said he believed Lindsey
understands the seriousness of his criminal conduct. Lindsey's serious
medical condition, ulcerative colitis, as well as the fact that his
wife is in poor health, were contributing factors in the sentencing

"I'm not going to tell the court I think this person is a threat to
the community. I don't think we'll see him back here," Thaggard said.

Christensen agreed.

Along with a chronic disease that has cost him "hundreds of thousands
of dollars in debt," Christensen cited Lindsey's education, lack of
criminal history and limited active participation in Montana Cannabis
as reasons for the sentence.

"I have concluded he is a highly educated and very intelligent
person," Christensen said.

Christensen commended the parties for reaching the joint sentencing
agreement, calling that a "very unique situation."

While confusion existed about how federal and state laws would
interact after the legalization of medical marijuana in Montana,
"federal law controls," Christensen said. "Mr. Lindsey, to his credit,
never maintained he was in compliance with federal law."

Christensen also ordered Lindsey to forfeit $288,000 held in business
bank accounts, submit to one urine or breath test per week and
complete 200 hours of community service.

He was ordered to stop using controlled substances, including medical


Lindsey, Thomas Daubert, Chris Williams and Richard Flor formed
Montana Cannabis in 2009, five years after Montana voters
overwhelmingly passed legislation permitting caregivers to distribute
marijuana to people with physical ailments.

But under a federal crackdown in March 2011, Montana Cannabis was one
of about 25 medical marijuana businesses that were raided. Marijuana
is still considered a Schedule 1 narcotic under federal law.

Daubert received a sentence of five years on probation. Flor, who was
sentenced to 10 years in prison, died from health-related
complications while incarcerated. Williams is in federal prison
awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of eight drug-related

Lindsey acknowledged that when Montana Cannabis was formed "we all
knew that our activities were illegal according to federal law."
However, he said, "we thought we were on the verge of a sea change in
federal law. The law had not yet changed but federal policy had and we
thought the law would soon follow."

"Things we thought were perfectly acceptable at the time were later
found by the Montana Supreme Court to be unlawful," Lindsey said. "One
of the big lessons I learned is that neither government nor the
citizens can change the law with respect to something that is a
popular black market item without first putting in place a robust set
of regulations."

Lindsey also apologized for "grossly" miscalculating the effect
possessing a firearm would have on the business, saying when the
facility became fully staffed he objected to the presence of firearms

Lindsey told Christensen he was sorry that "what I helped create
became a problem and not a solution."

"I am grateful the U.S. Attorney's Office has recommended probation
and it's not a recommendation I take for granted," Lindsey said.

Lindsey, who lives in Missoula, planned to meet with a probation
officer Friday afternoon, then "have a long conversation with my son
about what all this means," he said after the sentencing.

An attorney, Lindsey plans to continue to advocate for medical
marijuana, and is still president of the Montana Cannabis Industry

Depending on the outcome of a meeting with the Office of Disciplinary
Counsel, the lawyer regulation system established by the Montana
Supreme Court, he also will continue to represent clients around the

"I'm a medical marijuana attorney, that's what I do," Lindsey said.
"Now, it's criminal defense work." 
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