Less than two weeks before the election, Obama’s administration seems to be dismantling their war on medicinal cannabis; as numerous legal battles start to favor common sense and freedom
Obviously, no one person can singlehandedly “win” the drug war; which vast legions of dedicated citizens have been fighting against for many decades. Yet, the trial of Chris Williams is poised to take center stage in the legal unraveling of this insane war on medical cannabis users and providers. It seems the idea of a candid, up front and honest business man doing almost ninety years in prison for supplying medicine in compliance with state law doesn’t even sit well with the prosecuting attorneys anymore.
“Unorthodox” is the term used by attorney Michael Donahoe to describe the recent offering of a plea agreement to his client. In twenty-eight years of being in the profession, he’s never seen prosecutors offer to withdraw roughly 86% of a convicted felon’s sentence for giving up the right to appeal. Now, Judge Dana Christensen is going to hold a hearing on November 1st in Great Falls to decide if Williams should be released on bail while awaiting his appeal. A rally is scheduled that day, at 9:00am in front of the courthouse, to help the judge make the right decision.
Meanwhile, over in California, their high courts are setting new precedent by acknowledging the rights of medical cannabis users and providers to use state laws as a defense in court. Exactly what, many of us know all too well, was prevented from happening in Chris Williams’ case and would have been done if anybody else had chosen to fight rather than accept a plea bargain.
For some reason, Montana’s high courts have continued to take a very hard line approach against recognizing the medical utility or legal use, cultivation and sale of this plant. However, in light of what Montana’s own Attorney General and candidate for Governor Steve Bullock has recently said combined with everything else that’s happening in the state and across the nation, this stance appears bound for change. Which has apparently just begun, in the form of a temporary restraining order granted by Judge Reynolds that is now keeping the full effects of SB423 from going into effect.
At the same time all of this is going on, two other major cases are unfolding through our federal court system. What this all means for the future of cannabis in the U.S. is still very much up in the air; yet, it may well be the overwhelming blowback from efforts to destroy Montana’s medical cannabis program and upstanding citizens that finally settles this issue in court. To some degree anyway, by following the precedent set recently in California’s 4th District Court of Appeals decision to protect the rights of medical cannabis users to participate in legitimate trade of the substance and, as mentioned above, use of compliance with state law as a defense in court. Leaving prosecutors without anything but an empty threat, which more and more judges are getting sick of wasting their precious time and resources with.
If this all seems too good to be true, as it did when I first read various articles on these cases; then, think again. In what most are reporting as a somewhat unrelated incident, Wells Fargo has just caved to public pressure and pulled the majority (75%) of their investments away from private prisons. Not to minimize the extensive efforts which hundreds, or more likely thousands, of people went through to pressure the company; but, at the very least, it’s a savvy business move in the wake of a decision that will have a huge impact on prisons in Califoronia and beyond.
Given that so many wealthy bank executives are somewhat likely to spend time in the treasure state, it’s not unreasonable to conclude the negative press regarding the criminal treatment of the late Richard Flor in a private prison in Shelby, MT; had a little something to do with Wells Fargo’s decision as well. Likewise, with how much press and outside interest his tragic death has already generated; there is also little doubt the courts in California were aware of his brutal treatment and the public outrage it continues to fuel. But, at this point, we can only speculate on whether or not they had the ongoing case against Chris Williams in mind when ruling that compliance with state law is a legitimate defense in court.
This situation is obviously going to take a while to play out before anything really gets settled; yet, it seems certain to improve substantially for those of us here in Montana and numerous other states very soon. Like, in a couple weeks; regardless of how much ignorance our state’s Supreme Court continues to display, as long as we successfully defeat SB423(IR-124).
On the federal level, we have an Attorney General who is not saying a word about the medicinal herb; while two out of three states are likely to legalize the plant for use by all adults. It has been widely reported that all of the former drug czars are calling on AG Eric Holder to issue threats, however none have been forthcoming. My personal speculation is that he doesn’t want to further deny the medical utility of cannabis out of fear of future prosecution. Ironically, a notion that only seems plausible because Republicans have been using every means at their disposal to attack the AG for political reasons…
In yet another related case, the DEA’s own judge ruled “in favor of removing the government obstruction to medical cannabis research in the United States.“ Which, to the best of my knowledge, means removing it from the status of a “schedule I narcotic.” If this is not a recognition of the current medical use of cannabis in the United States, I don’t know what it’s lacking. Perhaps some lawyer or DEA agent out there would be kind enough to provide some insight? Either way, it does also have the effect of bringing the scientific results of cannabis research back into the court system where it belongs.
Getting back to the situation here in Montana, we are set to find out on Thursday if Chris Williams will be set free pending his appeal. Judge Christensen will hold a hearing on November 1st, at the same time Judge Jim Gray will be giving a speech about the failings of our drug war on the University of Montana-Western campus in Dillon. He is the Libertarian candidate for Vice President, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and author of the book, “Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It.“ Judge Gray will be giving a speech and answering questions on October 31st at the Montana State University campus and will be at the U of M in Missoula 6:00pm on Thursday. According to his facebook page, he is also scheduled to be back on campus the following day, Nov. 2nd, at 11:00am. In the University Center’s third-floor ballroom.
Judge Christensen is also hopefully going to be influenced by all of the letters currently being sent on Chris’s behalf and an online petition which has already collected over five hundred signatures in roughly a day. Click here to add yours. For now, I’ll leave you with a few words Chris Williams sent to the Helena Independent Record reporter, Eve Byron; who’s been kind enough to give his case some of the attention it deserves:
“I have decided to fight the federal government, because for me not defending the things that I know are right is dishonorable,” Williams wrote. “Every citizen has a responsibility to fight for what is right, even if it seems like the struggle will be lost.