Medical cannabis provider Chris Williams faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 92 years in prison for operating a state-authorized outlet. This weekend, a White House petition to pardon Williams became the first of its kind to reach the 25,000 signatures required for a response from the Obama Administration.
Previous requests for clemency have been made via the “We the People” petition site on WhiteHouse.gov. Until now, none exceeded 10,000 signatures in the available 30-day time frame. The petition to pardon Williams collected that amount in the first 24 hours it was online.
Why the swell of support? Williams’s case is unique in many ways and eerily common in others. Out of over 70 cannabis caregivers indicted under U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Williams is one of only four to refuse all plea bargains and demand a trial by jury. According to the United States Courts, more than 90% of federal defendants plead guilty rather than go to trial.
By resisting federal pressure to take a plea bargain, Williams entered into a tense showdown with the U.S. Government over its raids of state-compliant cannabis providers. Like other caregivers convicted at trial, Williams and his attorney were not allowed to tell the jury about relevant medical marijuana laws or reference the state Constitution. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled that state law is inconsequential in the case because Williams is charged under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which meant that attorneys could not argue that Williams strictly followed Montana law.
On September 27, 2012, Williams was found guilty of eight federal felonies, including conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana. He was denied release pending appeal and is currently in federal custody awaiting sentencing on January 4, 2013. Advocates believe Williams is being targeted for his refusal to buckle to federal intimidation and for his role in suing the U.S. Government over its medical marijuana policy.