Federal attorneys danced around the elephant in the middle of the U.S. District courtroom in Helena for the third day in the trial of Christopher Williams, finally mentioning Montana’s Medical Marijuana Act only after the jury was dismissed for the day on Wednesday.
Prior to sending the jurors home, Williams took to the stand and openly admitted that he grew and distributed medical marijuana as part of the Helena-based Montana Cannabis partnership. He called himself the partnership’s “farmer.”
“Yes sir, I was growing marijuana at the State Nursery,” Williams said in response to questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Thaggard. “My hands were dirty every day.”
“You were going to cultivate it?” Thaggard asked.
“Correct,” Williams said.
“You were going to distribute it?”
“And you cultivated it with the intent to distribute?”
Those all are elements of four of the charges Williams faces involving manufacturing, distributing and possessing marijuana, and forming a conspiracy to do so; four other charges involve possession of a firearm during a drug offense.
Williams readily agreed that he had formed a partnership with Thomas Daubert, Chris Lindsey and Richard Flor in the spring of 2009. But the trio also testified that had they known about Flor’s previous criminal activities, including selling guns and marijuana to undercover agents, they never would have associated with him.
“I wouldn’t have invited him on board,” Lindsey said. “It was important to us that we have as much of a professional organization as we could establish.”
But it was only after the jurors had left the room that Daubert, Lindsey, Williams and his attorney, Michael Donahoe, outlined before Judge Dana Christensen the full story of why they created the business and wanted high standards. Airing those reasons in court were part of an unusual move meant to preserve a “claim of error” when Donahoe appeals the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – even though the jury won’t hear closing arguments until Thursday morning and hasn’t rendered a verdict.
“We wanted to serve patients and the state of Montana by providing the ideal company to run within the bounds of the state law,” Williams said. “We shared a common interest in educating the state legislature and others in the community about medical marijuana and about the most effective ways, from our viewpoint, that we could change the Medical Marijuana Act to help it function better for patients, caregivers and lawmakers.”
He added that they had an “open door” policy, hosting tours for legislators, law enforcement officers and even the head chief narcotics officer for the state. They hired accountants, paid taxes and tracked all of their plants “from the time they had roots to their harvest” and as well as when they were being packed and distributed.
“Our overall interpretation of the federal government’s policy was that we had been granted immunity as long as we stayed within the boundaries of state law,” Williams said.
In court filings, Donahoe notes that he continues to object to Christensen’s ruling that prohibits him from offering a defense of entrapment. He said that Williams and the others wouldn’t have formed the partnership and operated in such an open manner had they not relied on statements by President Barrack Obama before his election that “medical marijuana was an issue best left to state and local governments” and when Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly said in February or March 2009 the new federal policy would reserve prosecution to “Traffickers who falsely masqueraded as medical dispensaries and use (state) medical marijuana laws as a shield.”
Donahoe said that led Williams and the other partners to believe that prosecution of marijuana cultivation and distribution would be a low priority at the federal level in states that had approved it for medical uses.
Holder “was addressing the nation at large and knew or should have known that the decision not to use scarce federal prosecutorial resources to prosecute medical marijuana providers acting under the aegis of state law would both encourage and induce hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens to engage in the medical marijuana industry,” Donahoe wrote.
He added that memos to U.S. attorneys from the executive branch, suggesting that medical marijuana users and providers would be spared prosecution under federal law was just a trick “to snare more people” like Williams into violating federal drug laws.
“In a manner of speaking the memos fashioned a kind of spigot that the government could unilaterally control,” Donahoe wrote. “Yes, state and individual citizens were free to indulge in the experiment of regulated medical marijuana. However, if at any time the executive branch of the federal government became dissatisfied with either the lack or extent of the state’s regulation of medical marijuana, federal prosecutions would be brought until both the demand and the supply of medical marijuana reached levels acceptable to the federal sovereign and/or the state changed its law.”
Donahoe added that the federal government was considering prosecuting Flor and had even sought a search warrant for his home, but dropped the investigation in 2009.
Yet Christensen refused to reverse his ruling, and admonished the jurors before releasing them Wednesday that the allegations are violations of federal criminal law, regardless of Montana laws governing medical marijuana.
“This case is being prosecuted in federal court. As such, the case is governed exclusively by federal law,” Christensen said. “Under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Federal law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, possession with intent to distribute, simple possession and use of marijuana for any purpose. State laws related to the legality of marijuana in certain circumstances have no bearing on the issues before you and provide no defense to any charge against the defendant as set forth in the superseding indictment.
“Unless I instruct you otherwise, you should not consider any reference to the medical use of marijuana, as such references have no relevance to the charges set forth in the superseding indictment. Similarly, you must disregard any statements or argument about the defendant or others purporting to comply or not to comply with state laws concerning marijuana.”
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Website: Medical cannabis defendant tells full story after jury leaves