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Jury finds Chris Williams guilty on all eight counts in medical marijauana case

2012-09-27T17:12:00Z 2012-12-29T00:02:55Z Jury finds Chris Williams guilty on all eight counts in medical marijauana caseBy EVE BYRON Independent Record Helena Independent Record
September 27, 2012 5:12 pm  • 

Chris Williams, who wanted to challenge the federal government over its handling of medical marijuana prosecutions in Montana, was led to jail in handcuffs Thursday after 12 jurors convicted him of eight drug- and firearms-related charges.

Williams sat quietly and unemotionally, with his hands folded on the table in front of him, as the three men and nine women, their voices shaking at times, told the court that their verdict was unanimous.

His attorney, Michael Donahoe, requested that Williams not be detained until sentencing, noting that he’s already working on an appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

“I pray for his release pending sentencing and ultimately the appeal,” Donahoe said. “I don’t think he poses any risk of flight or danger to the community.”

However, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen said he had little choice in the matter due to the seriousness of the charges.

“We have a conviction on eight counts; those counts — and I understand there will be an appeal — carry with them significant mandatory minimum (sentences) that, as I read the applicable statutes, would run consecutively, arguably, in this case,” Christensen said. “I also read the law as it relates to detention pending sentencing following a conviction in these sorts of charges. Quite frankly, I don’t feel I have a whole lot of choice in this matter.”

Still, Christensen said that he will hold a detention hearing as soon as Donahoe files a motion requesting one.

Williams was charged with four felonies involving conspiracy and the cultivation and distribution of marijuana, as well as four related charges regarding possession of a firearm while drug trafficking. It was the first test case in Montana of federal prosecution for medical marijuana providers operating under Montana law.

The jury debated almost six hours before reaching a verdict. Earlier Thursday, Williams said he was prepared mentally for what could be a minimum of 45 years in prison. To him, the case isn’t about drug trafficking and guns; instead, it’s about the rights of citizens and states to make laws and not just abide by rules created at the federal level.

“This is about citizens’ rights under the United States Constitution,” Williams said.

By a 62 percent majority, Montana voters passed the Montana Medical Marijuana Act in 2004. In 2009, after federal officials — including the U.S. attorney general and President Barrack Obama — said that prosecuting cases in states with medical marijuana laws would be a low priority, Williams and three partners set up shop.

Williams said they believed the statements by federal officials granted them immunity from prosecution, as long as they followed Montana state laws. He said they set up a legitimate business model in 2009 that would be the “gold standard” for other medical marijuana providers to follow.

He added that they had an open door policy, hosting tours for legislators, law enforcement officers and even the chief narcotic 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.

By early 2011, close to 30,000 people held cards certifying that they had a medical condition that fell under the auspices of the Medical Marijuana Act, and federal officials decided to try to rein in the burgeoning businesses. The Helena greenhouse and 25 other medical marijuana dispensaries in 13 cities in Montana were raided in March 24, 2011. About 950 plants were taken from the Helena facility, and $1.6 million was seized from Montana Cannabis bank accounts.

Williams said his was probably the easiest trial ever for prosecutors, since he took the stand Wednesday and stated outright that he was the “farmer” for Montana Cannabis, which operated from 2009 to 2011 at the old State Nursery west of Helena. The business also had stores in Billings and Montana, as well as an outdoor grow operation at the Miles City home of Richard Flor.

However, Williams wasn’t able to tell the jurors anything about the Montana Medical Marijuana Act since Christensen ruled that marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug under federal law; as such, possession, cultivation and distribution of it remains a federal crime. Montana laws, he added, weren’t pertinent to the case and he didn’t allow any mention of them before jurors or as a defense.

Donahoe has stated that he believes the federal government is guilty of entrapment of his client, and will appeal on that basis and others.

In closing arguments before the jury Thursday morning, Donahoe focused on the four charges involving the firearms rather than the marijuana production and distribution since Williams had readily admitted to it.

“It would be foolish for me to stand here and tell you Mr. Williams wasn’t engaged in growing marijuana. He was in the business of growing marijuana,” Donahoe said. “The evidence will show you, and the pictures show you, he had a greenhouse, work schedules, bank accounts and deposit slips. The nature of the business was all made clear to banking authorities.

“So what are we here to talk about? The firearms.”

Donahoe said that the pistol Williams sometimes wore in a holster around his waist was for the protection of himself and his employees, and is allowed under the Second Amendment. He added that Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joe Thaggard and Paulette Stewart hadn’t made any connection between Williams and seven guns found at the Helena greenhouse, or with the 20 guns confiscated during the raid at the Flor house. He added that they never did find Williams’ gun.

“In the traditional criminal sense, were the guns necessary to transfer marijuana from one person to another? I submit to you there’s no evidence to that. No customer testimony. Nothing,” Donahoe said.

Thaggard, however, said that not only did Williams bring his own gun to work, he allowed at least two other employees to have them on the premises, in close proximity to the marijuana. At least one of them cradled a 44-caliber that was so big it was described by a witness as a “hog’s leg” while a patient was purchasing marijuana at the Montana Cannabis office.

“Drugs are being sold and Dan Nichols is sitting there with the gun in his lap,” Thaggard said. “What was that being used for?”

He added that he believes the guns were used to protect the plants and the finished product from people who might want to steal them.

Thaggard also told jurors that it was “reasonable and foreseeable” for Williams to know that when drugs were involved, guns probably would be present. In addition, he stated that when Williams and other employees went to the Flor house to harvest marijuana, all of them carried a gun.

“It just doesn’t make sense for the defendant to come in and say to you ‘It wasn’t foreseeable to me that Richard Flor would have guns,’” Thaggard said. “He had them in the vicinity of drugs and you use them to protect the drugs.”

Williams’ partners — Flor, Thomas Daubert and Chris Lindsey — all have taken plea bargains in connection with similar charges brought against them. Flor was sentenced to five years in prison, but died in jail from medical problems. Daubert received a five-year probationary sentence and Lindsey is waiting to hear his fate. Both Daubert and Lindsey testified at Williams’ trial both for the defense and prosecution.

Prior to the verdict, Donahoe had requested a mistrial after Thaggard compared Williams and his partners to dogs in front of the jury.

In his closing statement, Thaggard said that Williams was involved in criminal conduct and when he did that, he would get involved with bad people.

“If you lie down with dogs, you just might get fleas, and you can’t say you didn’t know that would happen,” Thaggard said.

Donahoe objected, but was overruled by Christensen. However, after the jury left the courtroom, Donahoe moved for a mistrial based on the statement.

“The government’s argument, which is not supported by evidence, is a vilification of the people who testified,” Donahoe said. “He said they are guilty because they are animals. That’s a violation of the Due Process clause and the Sixth Amendment.

“There’s no character evidence for any of these people to imply there is and to draw attention to that matter is inappropriate.”

However, Christensen denied the motion.

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or eve.byron@helenair.com Follow Eve on Twitter.com/IR_EveByron

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(33) Comments

  1. molson
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    molson - January 23, 2013 5:27 pm
    The state law was not abused at all, Chris even gave tours to the local law enforcement, local legislators, they had no right to prosecute him. He was even consulting lawyers to make sure he was in the right. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/08/opinion/the-fight-over-medical-marijuana.html?_r=0
    Here is another article with the fuller story. Also it's pretty normal for everyone to own a gun in MT. It's kind of a culture, here I learned to shoot a shot gun by the time I was 12, and I'm a girl. We had beebee guns by the time we are 5. Guns are a norm here. I can understand why they had guns for protection, when you don't have all of the law enforcement on your side because of biased against it. If they are trying to compare him to an illegal gang, they are far from the truth. I don't use any substance. I can see this for what it is, a violation of our rights.
  2. FreeChrisWilliams
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    FreeChrisWilliams - October 28, 2012 3:03 am
    http://signon.org/sign/judge-christensen-please?source=c.url&r_by=5842109
  3. FlamingLiberal1
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    FlamingLiberal1 - October 02, 2012 1:44 pm
    Williams was railroaded, and 50 years from now we are going to look back at this case and others like it as a civil rights struggle. The war on drugs has resulted in the incarceration of a ridiculously large percentage of our population, more than pretty much any other country in the world. A large percentage of drug prisoners are minorities. It is absurd to imprison people for essentially victimless crimes.
  4. Riamh
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    Riamh - October 01, 2012 2:31 pm
    Well said FL. And that truth is self evident. The problem with these "moralists" is, they just don't get it. Prohibition only makes criminals rich, and keeps an industry based on incarceration for profit alive with innocents, and/or people who didn't deserve the punishment meted out.
  5. Twangs
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    Twangs - October 01, 2012 10:12 am
    Steeline- You are half right. Yes, we do look like fools. And you can thank our radical Republican legislature who, on this issue and others, made Montana politics a national joke.
    Just like when Martz was Guv. There are 17 states with MM laws, plus DC. There are 8 or so other states with legalizing MM on the ballot this November. Montana is the ONLY state to repeal (and yes, it is repeal) to overturn a voter passed iniative. The ONLY state to opt for MORE government. Interesting to note that you believe the Feds should be allowed to interfere in voter passed state iniatives. I'm sure you feel the same way about wolves, the Feds taking control of Motnana's northern border etc. Surprised that a wingnut would believe that Fed law should prevail over state laws.
  6. FlamingLiberal1
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    FlamingLiberal1 - October 01, 2012 9:47 am
    And do you think recreational users were stopped from using it when the Legislature overrode the will of the people for the first time in history? Seems to me that the heads are still smoking. The kids still can lay hands on it. But Nana can't get any to ease her chemotherapy, unless maybe she asks her grandson to find her some.
  7. FlamingLiberal1
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    FlamingLiberal1 - October 01, 2012 9:45 am
    Yeah, because prohibition has worked SO WELL in keeping it out of the hands of recreational users. Give me a break. The only ones denied any pot by this bust were legitimate medical users.
  8. RationalThought
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    RationalThought - September 30, 2012 10:02 am
    Ok, so I will mix up a batch of oxycodone in my kitchen today. Then, I'll pitch a tent next to the sunglass tent or next to the guy selling blankets with pictures of Elvis on them and sell my drug right there. You think that is ok? How irrational of you to think such a thought. What type of substance could cause you to think that way? Hmm?
  9. dolphind3
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    dolphind3 - September 29, 2012 8:47 pm
    Sounds like a rant, the law was abused. Flat out abused. I am all for doing it over again but keeping the recreational users out of it.
  10. dolphind3
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    dolphind3 - September 29, 2012 8:44 pm
    @Curteous, Because as I and many others have said, the pot was heavily abused by people that just wanted to use it recreationally so they got a card. The only way we will vote for this again is if it is regulated by the government and picked up at a pharmacy like other meds.
  11. SEEKINGTHELOSTCOMONSENCE
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    SEEKINGTHELOSTCOMONSENCE - September 29, 2012 4:10 am
    @ rational thought., if your thought is rational than why aren't we arresting and convicting pharmacists. they distribute drugs. they distribute bad drugs that when taken in excess will kill you. There is no know death associated with cannabis. And guess what rational thought. It relieves pain. I have arthritis. I have a medical recommendation from a doctor and i buy a topical cream that relieves my pain. I cant lift a cup of coffee without out it. So if i can take a heavily addictive chemical pill that has many unpleasant and even dangerous side effects OR i can buy a cream with no side effects, (there is no "high" when used topically). You "rational thought is if i take the pill I'm not a drug addict. If i use the cream containing cannabis I am a drug addict. A cream the was produced from plants grown here in the US, not grown by the drug cartel in another country where unsafe pesticides were used or parasites, mold or other contaminants are likely to be present. Your rational thought is that we should lock up the person who is growing the plants to be used for some of the hundred of thousand patients who have learned that cannabis has safe medicinal qualities should be put in prison. Do you feel safer now that he is off the streets? I sure don't. Either you work for a pharmaceutical company or you know absolutely nothing about medical cannabis. There is a lot of people that don't want you to know about it. What would happen if you could grow your own medicine and not have to buy drugs from the pharmaceutical companies. There is a Walgreens on every corner where I live. This is a case of money ruling over public health and safety and its done by filling the public's head with propaganda and lies. But the public is finding out any way and that is why we passed the laws top make it legal. It is a good safe medicine. The federal government will not allow the defendants to present the legitimate medical evidence that it has medicinal qualities. Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, ASA’s challenge to the DEA’s denial of the most recent cannabis rescheduling petition, will be heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on October 16 at 9:30am. This will be the first opportunity in decades for a federal court to hear the full scope of scientific evidence on the therapeutic applications of cannabis. People need to stand up and stop big business and the government from lying and destroying peoples lives for the sake of their profits. That my friend is rational thought.
  12. sparticus
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    sparticus - September 28, 2012 4:29 pm
    I do agree with you though, the Medical Marijuana Act was a complete failure. It could have been done much more efficiantly.
  13. sparticus
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    sparticus - September 28, 2012 4:20 pm
    I guess what I was trying to portray is that we all have the same basic needs, and namecalling is childish. Maybe if I new more about the case my view would change, all I know is what the paper says. Thats great that you don't break any laws, but since your user name is Rational Thought, doesn't it seem irrational that his buisiness went on for as long as it did without being shutdown sooner? He didn't hide his buisiness, so why didn't they shut it down as soon as it started? And I understand not wanting criminals around, but the prison system does not help the situation, people addicted to and selling drugs need help and therapy, not put into a cell to dwell and become an even more hate-filled person, and the released back into society to do it all over again. Wouldn't be nice if we had more logic, love, and understand for our fellow man and earth?
  14. RationalThought
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    RationalThought - September 28, 2012 3:43 pm
    Just like me? Far from it. I work to support myself and the people who depend on me. My source of income in no way violates any laws, whether state or federal. This Williams decided to gamble with his freedom and lost. How is his family now? Not like mine.
  15. curteous
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    curteous - September 28, 2012 3:15 pm
    By calling your legislature and asking them to put a stop to it, you were asking them to put a stop to "helping people be comfortable in their last days" and they did!!! Do you really believe that is the right thing to do? Why would you change your mind about this?
  16. RationalThought
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    RationalThought - September 28, 2012 2:42 pm
    Using drugs hardly qualifies as freedom and liberty. What a ill conceived notion.
  17. sparticus
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    sparticus - September 28, 2012 2:22 pm
    I guess it's pretty obvious that the motives of our federal government hasn't changed, to capitalize and corrupt. Just like the ability for people to see fellow people as lesser because of a mistake, in this case the mistake being that these "drug dealers" made the decision to trust what they thought had been a confirmed law, a law voted in by popular vote, and supposedly upheld by authority. There are so many sad and immoral acts in this case, including the people just standing by and watching, to those of you saying these "drug dealers" are getting what they deserve, these "drug dealers" are real people just like you. From the sounds of it, they were trying to be good people, are you perfect? At the end of the day, they were just making this into a job, to feed themselves and their families, just like you.
  18. jgrdh11
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    jgrdh11 - September 28, 2012 2:18 pm
    Providers that were operating within Montana State law were not arrested, charged or prosecuted by the Feds. ONLY those providers that were operating outside Montana State law were. Mr. Williams was not in this to help others. He's a money grubbing, gun carrying, drug dealer and that's why he's on his way to a Federal prison today.
  19. dolphind3
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    dolphind3 - September 28, 2012 12:46 pm
    Well said Rational thought. The fact that people thought that we would be helping people be comfortable intheir last days and then once we said yes the drug abusers came out in full force and we changed our minds. We called our legislature and asked them to put a stop to it. They did.
  20. JVH77
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    JVH77 - September 28, 2012 11:22 am
    correction: today's hearing dealt with forfeiture. Sentencing is January 4th
  21. Riamh
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    Riamh - September 28, 2012 11:20 am
    What I find most disturbing, as pointed out in another thread, was beginning with the "Oath" .. when sworn in, defendants are sworn to tell "the truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the truth". Yet in making its case, the Government didn't do that. They hid part of the story from the jurors. They wouldn't allow the defense to actually "Defend" against these charges. It was a selective hiding of the truth. How is that Justice? IMHO, the prosecutor was nothing more than a "spin doctor" in this case.
  22. Helena's Native Son
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    Helena's Native Son - September 28, 2012 10:09 am
    The American federal government = lawful evil. This is not justice.
  23. jway86
    Report Abuse
    jway86 - September 28, 2012 9:55 am
    American taxpayers are being forced to pay $40 Billion a year for a prohibition that causes 10,000 brutal murders & 800,000 needless arrests each year, but which doesn't even stop CHILDREN getting marijuana.

    After seventy years of prohibition, it's obvious that the federal marijuana prohibition causes FAR more harm than good and must END! Drug Dealers Don't Card, Supermarkets Do.
  24. Shenanigans
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    Shenanigans - September 28, 2012 9:44 am
    And where are the legions of TEA Party activists demanding the Pheds honor State's rights and the free marketplace? Where are the "Christian Conservatives" who claim to stand for God's creation and justice for mankind (wasn't cannabis created on the 4th day???) You come out in throngs for a non-existent war on the 2nd amendment, or for being "taxed enough already" ($15,000,000,000 each year just for cannabis prohibition) but when the real deal is happening to your fellow Montanan, you couldn't be quieter. What a bunch of hypocritical cowards and not a single Christian among you. Tim Ravndal, Henry Kriegel and the Big Sky Tea Party are nothing by sock puppets for the Petropharma Plutocracy. Traitors!
    My God people, this is real life! A man has already died while in the custody of the Pheds related to this case, but we care more about the NFL refs or who will win Dancing with the Stars?
    WAKE UP!!!
    WWJD????
  25. Shenanigans
    Report Abuse
    Shenanigans - September 28, 2012 9:43 am
    steeline, is this what "getting America Right" looks like?

    Let's at least quit pretending America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We live in a Phederal Plutocracy that just has 50 satellite offices.

    S.O.S. people, These are our fellow country men being decimated by the corrupt governance of the Sorry States of America. What happened to us? Don't tread on me...unless you feel like it?
    The tree of liberty is mighty thirsty folks.
  26. Shenanigans
    Report Abuse
    Shenanigans - September 28, 2012 8:36 am
    That's the stuff RT, Jesus couldn't have said it better! Social cannibalism for all!
    Thank God the Phederal Government is looking out for us imbeciles in Montana, what with our crazy notions of freedom and liberty, and our dangerous endeavors with democracy!
  27. FlamingLiberal1
    Report Abuse
    FlamingLiberal1 - September 28, 2012 8:35 am
    Railroading Williams (and he absolutely WAS railroaded) did nothing to reduce the availability of drugs on the streets. It did nothing to improve public safety. All this did was take an effective and safe medication away from legitimate users. The illegal users still have their illegal channels. Now we have one man dead in prison, whose death was likely hastened by inadequate medical care, and another man facing spending the rest of his life behind bars because he was foolish enough to believe a press release from the feds (which they refused to allow into evidence) which stated if he followed state law in providing medical marijuana, he would not be prosecuted. How many tax dollars were wasted in prosecuting this group? What (positive thing) has been accomplished?

    Good luck with the appeal.
  28. steeline
    Report Abuse
    steeline - September 28, 2012 8:30 am
    It appears that the Obama administration set Montana up for this. Now, we look like fools to the nation. The only path to "States Rights" is to have Federal Laws changed. That is the job of our elected reprentation in Washington. With all the huge amounts of money involved with illegal cannabis, I doubt that much will change in DC. Now we can look forward to billions of tax payers dollars being spent on hunting down, prosecuting and locking up POT dealers. We have to get America Right.
  29. jgrdh11
    Report Abuse
    jgrdh11 - September 28, 2012 8:26 am
    Any day another dope dealer gets locked up is a good day! Enjoy your stay Mr. Williams.
  30. JVH77
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    JVH77 - September 28, 2012 8:03 am
    I'm reposting this from one of yesterday's stories.

    I spent most of the week in attendance at this trial and perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire proceeding was the not one, not two, but three forensic scientists the government flew in from California to testify to the fact that cannabis was seized and how much it weighed. This was the only information any of them provided even though it was never in dispute. Aside from anyone's feelings on cannabis or the state law versus Federal law debate I can't be the only one who sees this as a fantastic waste of taxpayer money. Why they even needed one I'm not sure, but three is unreasonable by any standard.

    Another interesting part of the trial was the judges instruction to the jury where he highlighted what must be proven in order for a guilty verdict in each count. He seemed to indicate on the gun charges that the defendant must either be in physical control of the weapon or possess the power and intent to control that weapon. Since he wasn't in physical control of any of the weapons at the time of the search the second burden needed to be proven on all four gun counts. I have a hard time understanding how he could've possessed the power or intent to control firearms that were hundreds of miles away, but evidently the jury didn't find that to be a problem. I imagine this falls under the ridiculous Pinkerton case law which says each member of a "conspiracy" is responsible for the crimes of every participant.

    At any rate the experience was both fascinating and infuriating. It was sad to see Mr. Thaggard attempt to paint MTcannanbis as a group of thugs constantly polishing our assault rifles and handguns in anticipation of some kind of shootout with law enforcement. It was also sad to find out first hand how the American judicial system (at least on the Federal level) is really just a contest to see who can eliminate the most information from being allowed. Logic certainly would dictate the more information a jury has the more likely they would be to come to a fair and accurate decision. Yet logic seldom comes into play in Federal court.

    The real impact of this case is in the future when it comes up on appeal. The 9th circuit will have the testimony this jury was denied. For now Chris will be sentenced tomorrow, he's facing mandatory minimums of 45 years I believe. He was offered plead deals that would've meant far less time, but to his credit the principle was more important to him than his freedom. I'd like to think I'd have the same courage, but I'm sure I wouldn't. Chris and I were never friends when I worked for him and MTcannabis, but I thank him for the opportunity I was given and for facilitating a dream of mine, even if it was short-lived.
    The jury did their jobs today and they, nor the judge should take the blame for the injustice that has occurred. But little doubt exists as to the quality of those who chose to bring this case to begin with. Here's hoping they one day recognize their misdeeds and seek to correct them.

    VOTE NO ON IR-124
  31. RationalThought
    Report Abuse
    RationalThought - September 28, 2012 7:20 am
    Mama, pleased does not cover it. Elated that the jury found him guilty and he was led off to the big house. One thing Williams was right about: this is about citizens' rights. Yes, citizens' rights to have drug dealers locked up and not walking the streets thumbing their nose at the federal government. What happened here is the federal government corrected a mistake made by the ill informed voters of Montana. Most voters who voted for the initiative long ago realize now it was a complete failure. Some still refuse to admit it but all they do is look foolish now. Williams chose to violate federal law and is now paying the price. The only respect he gets is from pot smokers, what a great epitaph.
  32. SerialThriller
    Report Abuse
    SerialThriller - September 28, 2012 7:03 am
    Amen Mama. This mans life is ruined (as well as many many others) THE PEOPLE voted, yet HERE we are. I've never felt so close to not calling America 'home'. this government is a farce.
  33. MamaConnect
    Report Abuse
    MamaConnect - September 28, 2012 3:59 am
    So, voters - are you pleased with what has happened to I-148? Are you pleased with what the Legislative body of 2011 did to the current law? Do you think "Out of sight, Out of mind" is a good thing?

    What has happened here is a complete travesty in regards to the "idea" we have states rights.

    This case proves unequivocally, there is no such thing.......

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