Pubdate: Sat, 02 Feb 2013
Source: Helena Independent Record (MT)
Copyright: 2013 Helena Independent Record
Author: Gwen Florio


Medical Marijuana Grower Chris Williams Was Sentenced Friday to a 
Mandatory Five Years on a Federal Gun Charge, and Time Served on a 
Marijuana Charge.

MISSOULA - 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 was also 
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.

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 penalities 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, 
and levied the standard $100 federal fee on each charge.


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.
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