Rebecca Richman Cohen
On September 27th, Chris Williams, co-founder of Montana Cannabis, was found guilty on eight counts of marijuana and related firearms charges, despite his state’s medical marijuana law. These charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence of more than 80 years in prison — and expose the grave human consequences resulting from the existing disparity between federal and state laws pertaining to the medical use of marijuana.
I started filming Chris and his business partners during the last Montana state legislative session, as part of my feature-length documentary Code of the West. They seemed determined to create a model for a responsible medical marijuana caregiving operation, and routinely offered growhouse tours to law enforcement officials, politicians and community leaders, any number of which accepted this invitation.
Chris Williams had reason to believe his risk of federal prosecution was minimal, following the release of a 2009 memo by the Justice Department stating that the federal government should not focus federal resources on medical marijuana growers and patients who complied with their own state laws. But in March 2011, federal agents raided Chris’ growhouse during a statewide crackdown across Montana.