Williams verdict leads to different views about the future of MT medical marijuana

Former Montana Cannabis owner Chris Williams now awaits sentencing. A jury convicted the medical marijuana provider on eight drug-trafficking and firearms charges.

Williams says he is appealing the charges.

Of the eight guilty verdicts, four of those facing Chris Williams are felony charges involving cultivation and distribution of marijuana. Williams’ case is the only one to go to trial in the wake of federal government raids on 26 medical marijuana providers in the spring of 2011.

Most of those indicted ended up taking plea deals. This includes the three other men who owned Montana Cannabis with Williams. These plea deals were taken because defendants didn’t believe they could win their cases by saying they were following state law.

Williams did decide to try that defense. But U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen did not even allow it to be admitted.

Regardless of state law, marijuana is still illegal federally.

“You know, there was an assumption by these growing operations that they could somehow circumvent the law and get away with it and it just didn’t happen, it’s not happening,” said Republican Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives Mike Milburn.

Milburn has been an advocate of full repeal of Montana’s medical marijuana provisions. He says the Williams case proves how courts view Montana law stacked up to Federal law.

The 2011 Legislature passed new medical marijuana provisions which significantly restricted those passed by voters in 2004. The 2011 bill ended the marijuana industry that had sprung up to serve patients and curtailed how people can qualify for or access the drug.The number of registered cardholders has plummeted since then. Milburn thinks that’s a positive trend, but with the current state of federal law, he still wants full repeal.

“We shouldn’t even be dealing with this, there’s a law in place right now and it’s illegal to grow or use or manufacture or distribute marijuana,” Milburn said.

Helena-area resident Bob Brigham is a spokesman for Montana First, a medical marijuana advocacy organization. He says Williams made a courageous decision in taking the case to trial. He faults Judge Christensen for not admitting Williams’ defense, calling the whole situation entrapment. He thinks the verdicts are a waste.

“It’s a giant waste of everybody’s time and money to be trying to lock somebody up for growing some marijuana for sick patients. It’s ridiculous,” Brigham said.

And Williams may get locked up for decades. The case doesn’t bode well for the two people left who have not made plea deals with the government following the federal investigation–Lisa Flemming and former University of Montana Quarterback, Jason Washington.

Montana First spokesman Bob Brigham does not believe the Williams case hurts the overall medical marijuana effort.

“People are realizing that there’s not going to be a judicial decision that is going to save the day,” Brigham said.

He says it’s going to require a political decision, even if it needs to go all the way up to the federal level.

The medical marijuana reform passed by lawmakers has been placed on the ballot this November as IR-124. A vote for it upholds the legislature’s reform. Voting against it reverts the state back to the original medical marijuana law passed in ’04.

Chris William’s sentencing has been set for January 4th. He says he is appealing his case to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

-The Associated Press contributed to this report.


One thought on “Williams verdict leads to different views about the future of MT medical marijuana

  1. “These plea deals were taken because defendants didn’t believe they could win their cases by saying they were following state law.”
    Wow, Dan, I expect BETTER of you. These men could have EASILY won their cases by saying they were following state law. They were BLOCKED from even mentioning the words ‘medical marijuana’ or that the state law completely allowed their actions.
    In fact, a common ploy for the prosecutor to use to coerce a plea deal is to threaten the defendent’s spouse with prosecution as well…conspiracy, you know.
    We’ll never know if these men were operating within state law, because they were not allowed to defend themselves. For Milburn to continue with his lying/gloating in the wake of the utter destruction of these men’s lives is poor behavior for a man who supposedly represents the citizens of this state and the citizen’s initiatives they pass. BOOOOO.

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