By Cheri Sicard
“I have decided to fight the federal government, because for me not defending the things that I know are right is dishonorable. It is the power of the people to control this government that is supposed to protect us. If we shun this struggle, this government will control us instead of protecting us. Every citizen has a responsibility to fight for what is right, even if it seems like the struggle will be lost.”
Former United States Marine, Christopher Williams wrote those words to explain why he went to trial rather than take a plea bargain or deal, like everyone else involved in his marijuana case did.
Williams and partners operated one of Montana’s largest medical marijuana dispensaries in strict compliance with Montana state medical marijuana laws. Nonetheless, 2011 saw federal authorities launch an all-out assault on the state’s medical marijuana program.
During that sweep Montana Caregiver’s dispensary and its Helena grow operation were raided. Williams, along with his partners and employees were arrested and charged with felony drug and weapons charges.
Military Style RaidsThe government spared no expense in full military operation raids complete with an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team that exploded some pipes on the property, just in case they happened to be bombs.
Chris estimates 60 to 70 officers as well as canine units were involved in the raids at the 4 dispensaries and grow operation. When it was all over, the officers left over 75K of damage in their wake, a lot of it unnecessary, such as sticking scissors in the walls and urinating on lab coats. Williams says they also destroyed the hard drive on every computer after they had removed the information they wanted.
“It was like they wanted to have the evidence they needed without letting us keep what we could use,” he says.
For all the government’s military might and bravado, there were a number of things about the raid that didn’t make sense to the former marine.
Williams says he walked up to the raids and walked around the agents. They never took his phone and they never took the firearm he had in his backpack.
He says, “They didn’t even know that I was armed the entire time. Lucky for them I am not a violent criminal. They were not very efficient at their job. Had it been a hot zone like Iraq or Afghanistan their methods would have cost people their lives.”
The agents also left over two pounds of green buds and leaf on the floor.
“That was kind of crazy to me,” says Williams. “If they consider cannabis as dangerous as heroin why would they leave two pounds of it on the floor? My landlord was very nervous about it and he ended up sweeping it up and burning it in the garbage.”
About Those Weapons
The guns involved in Chris Williams’ case were legal and registered and not involved at all in the “crime.” The bulk of the guns belonged to Williams’ partner, the late Richard Flor, including many antique family heirlooms and collector’s items.
When I asked about the other guns, Chris explained they did keep three guns at the greenhouse property.
“You have to remember,” he explains, “this is Montana, everyone hunts, and our property was on 100 acres. The staff regularly hunted on the property.”
None of the firearms were illegal and every person there was legally able to possess firearms and trained in how to properly use them. The only thing that made the guns illegal was the fact that they were in the vicinity of marijuana.
Taking It To Trial
Williams, who operated under legal guidelines, refused to admit guilt in a crime he feels he did not commit.
”The main reason that I went to trial is because I felt it was my duty,” he said during his sentencing hearing.
The problem was, as in all federal trials, the defendants were not allowed a medical defense. That means that their juries never heard a word about state legal medical marijuana. To the juries eyes and ears, these were ordinary drug dealers.
Everyone else in Chris’s case – partners and employees, took some sort of deal. Some “cooperated” by testifying against others and received no prison time. Others, like Chris’s partner Richard Flor and his wife Sheri, took a deal for less time but refused to testify against anyone.
Williams says of his late partner, “Richard Flor was an amazing person, a Vietnam vet, the first legal caregiver in the state of Montana, and a kind and generous man.”
Tragically, four months into his five year sentence, Richard Flor died while shackled to a prison gurney at the age of 68, his daughter Kristin making the heart wrenching decision to remove her father from life support.
In the end a heart attack did him in, but Richard Flor had multiple health problems, including diabetes, before entering prison and the lack of health care was more than his body could stand. At the time of his death he had multiple bone fractures and undiagnosed cancer.
Of all the defendants involved in the case, Chris Williams alone stood firm and entered an innocent plea. In September 2012 a jury found him guilty of eight felony counts. The former marine and single dad now faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 80 years in prison.
Judge Dana Christensen intervened, calling the two attorneys together to come to a rare post-conviction agreement.
”An 85-year sentence in this case would simply be unjust,” Christensen said.
In the end, prosecutor Joseph Thaggard agreed to drop all but two charges against Williams and waive the $1.7 million forfeiture requirement. Chris would serve just five of the originally proposed 80+ years for a weapons charge, and his time already served was punishment for the marijuana charge.
Williams has used his time in prison to better himself, completing a number of studies including computer certifications, Spanish, guitar, fitness challenges and more. On his 40th birthday this year, Chris beat his own youthful marine boot camp scores for fitness and he ran his first marathon, in prison, at the age of 41.
Chris Williams is scheduled for release to a halfway house in 2017.
How You Can Help
Keep up with Chris via his Facebook page:
Or his website:
Write to Chris
Chris loves getting cards and letters from supporters. Write to him here:
Christopher Wayne Williams #11839-046
Federal Detention Center
PO Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198
Want to help more?
Here’s how to put money directly onto a prisoner’s books — no middle man, ALL of the money goes DIRECTLY to the prisoner – to be used for phone calls, email, legal expenses, food, personal hygiene items, etc.:
Send a postal money order (yes it must be a POSTAL money order or the Bureau of Prisons will not accept it) to:
Federal Bureau of Prisons
Inmate Name, Inmate Register Number
(in this case Christopher Wayne Williams #11839-046)
Federal Detention Center
PO Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198
Or go to Western Union and find the link on the bottom of the page “send money to an inmate.” (www.westernunion.com)
Editor’s note: Cheri Sicard is a dedicated cannabis activist, the author of Mary Jane: The Complete Marijuana Handbook for Women (2015 Seal Press) and The Cannabis Gourmet Cookbook (2012 Z-Dog Media). She is vice president of the CAN-DO Foundation (www.candoclemency.com). Her blog is www.CannabisCheri.com.