Montana medical marijuana cultivator Chris Williams is scheduled to be sentenced Friday in what has become a widely publicized case, illustrating the Obama Administration’s aggressive federal enforcement policies in medical marijuana states. Supporters of Williams organized a 3,300-mile bus caravan, called “Journey for Justice,” which started out in Los Angeles, picking up people in San Francisco and Portland, and is expected to arrive in Missoula today. Williams, convicted of 8 felonies in a September trial, was facing more than 80 years of mandatory minimums before being offered a rare post-trial plea deal in exchange for his promise not to appeal his conviction. Williams is now facing 5 years to life in federal prison.
What: Sentencing hearing for Montana cultivator Chris Williams
When: Friday, February 1st at 10am
Where: Russell Smith Federal Courthouse, 201 E. Broadway, Missoula, before Judge Dana L. Christensen
Williams was arrested with numerous others after aggressive SWAT-style raids conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in March 2011. On a single day, the DEA executed 26 separate search warrants across Montana, which not only represented a reversal of the Obama Administration’s policy on medical marijuana, but was also a thinly-veiled attempt to undermine state legislative efforts aimed at adopting distribution regulations. Soon after the raids, the Montana legislature passed a bill to completely repeal its medical marijuana law, which was later vetoed by then-Governor Schweitzer.
“It’s cases like this that make you wonder why the federal government sees fit to aggressively prosecute medical marijuana cultivators and distributors in full compliance with state law,” said Kris Hermes, spokesperson with Americans for Safe Access, the country’s leading medical marijuana advocacy organization. “The Obama Administration is lying to the American people when it says it’s not targeting individual patients and these cases are clear evidence of that.” Fellow Montana cultivator and medical marijuana patient Richard Flor died in August while serving out a 5-year prison sentence after being prosecuted by the Justice Department.
Several medical marijuana cultivators and distributors from Montana have been convicted and sentenced over the past few months. Richard Flor’s widow, Sherry Flor, was arrested with her husband and is now serving a 2-year prison sentence. Medical marijuana patient, cultivator and former University of Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jason Washington was convicted two weeks ago in federal court of two felonies, “conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana” and “possession with intent to distribute marijuana,” despite his claims to be in full compliance with state law. Because federal law does not recognize medical marijuana as such, defendants like Williams and Washington are denied a defense in federal court. Washington is facing up to 40 years in prison, and more than $10 million in fines and forfeitures.
Support for Williams began long before the Journey for Justice bus caravan set off from Los Angeles, A White House petition requesting a Presidential Pardon for Williams collected nearly 30,000 signatures last year, but the Obama Administration refused to comment on the case. The case against Williams drew the attention of Emmy Award nominated filmmaker Rebecca Richman Cohen, who is working on a documentary, “Code of the West,” which covers the story of Williams and others caught up in the Obama Administration’s attacks on medical marijuana.
Far surpassing his predecessor George W. Bush, President Obama has conducted more than 200 SWAT-style raids on state-compliant medical marijuana businesses and has indicted more than 80 people since he took office. “How many medical marijuana patients is President Obama going to imprison before he considers other, more humane options,” said Hermes. “The president must answer for why he’s going against his earlier pledges by spending Justice Department funds in this way.”
– Press release from Americans for Safe Access.