This Man Could Serve More Than 80 Years for Growing Medical Marijuana

Advocates are rallying around a Montana man facing a lifetime behind bars for cultivating what he emotionally insists was legal pot.

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Legalization advocates are rallying around a Montana man facing a lifetime behind bars for cultivating medical marijuana. Chris Williams, the former co-owner of Montana Cannabis, says he abided by all of the state's medical marijuana laws, but federal crackdowns in 2011 got him indicted for growing and distributing a Schedule 1 drug. He now spends his time in a federal prison awaiting sentencing. From a jail cell, he writes:

The Department of Justice is trying to, and will probably succeed at, sentencing me to a mandatory minimum of 85 years in the federal prison system. If I am given credit for "good time," I would be eligible for release after serving 72 years. I am now 38 years old. 

Williams says he was offered plea bargain deals, some of which would've commuted his sentence down to five years. "But I could not take a plea deal," he writes. "For me, not defending the ideals I know are right is dishonorable. I intend to hold this country and republic up to its own highest standards." Other growers from the state indicted in the sweeping raids accepted the plea bargains. Williams faces sentencing on January 4th, and petitions asking President Obama to pardon him have attracted tens of thousands of signatures.

The federal government's War on Drugs has hit Montana the hardest out of any state, according Robert Raich, lawyer who has brought two medical marijuana cases before the Supreme court. Fearing that Williams doesn't stand a chance in these trials, Raich says, "The War on Drugs is too sacrosanct a sacred cow for the courts to weigh in favor." As you'll see in this New York Times mini-documentary, Williams wasn't running just any old shady operation. He graciously showed off his digs to state legislators and Montana law enforcement officers. Last week, activists in Montana rolled out a ballot proposal to make pot legal in 2014.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.