MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge sentenced a medical marijuana provider on Friday to five years in prison under a plea agreement struck with federal prosecutors after a jury convicted him at trial.
Chris Williams' sentencing in Missoula wraps up the prosecution of four co-owners of Montana Cannabis, one of the largest medical marijuana operations caught up in a federal crackdown that culminated with raids on more than two dozen homes and businesses in the state in 2011.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen accepted the recommendation of Williams' attorney and sentenced him to time served on a drug charge and five years for a weapons charge. He also dismissed a $1.7 million criminal forfeiture awarded by the jury.
Christensen called Williams "a principled man, stubborn in his beliefs, (who) remains steadfast in his conviction that he has done nothing wrong," the Missoulian reported (http://bit.ly/VBpVvf).
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard had recommended Williams serve consecutive five-year sentences for the two charges to which he pleaded guilty.
Williams was convicted of eight charges after a September trial in which he was not allowed to use Montana's medical marijuana law as a defense. He had argued that Montana Cannabis was compliant with the state's medical marijuana law, but separate judges later ruled that the federal law that lists marijuana as an illegal drug trumps state law allowing its use and distribution.
Prosecutors agreed in December to dismiss six charges as long as Williams didn't appeal convictions for possessing a firearm in connection with drug trafficking and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
He faced a mandatory sentence of more than 80 years in prison after the trial.
Christensen recommended Williams be incarcerated in the federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., so he can be close to his 16-year-old son, a student at Montana State University.
Medical marijuana advocates who had traveled from California in a school bus painted green held a brief protest Friday morning outside the federal courthouse in Missoula.
Williams was a partner in Montana Cannabis, which operated distribution centers in Helena, Billings, Miles City and Missoula and had a large marijuana greenhouse on the west edge of Helena. Federal agents confiscated more than 950 marijuana plants from the greenhouse during the March 2011 raids.
Williams' three partners previously pleaded guilty to drug charges. Lobbyist Tom Daubert and attorney Chris Lindsey both received probation and no jail time. Partner Richard Flor, of Miles City, was given a five-year sentence and died within a few months of his incarceration.
Dan Nichols, a security guard for the Montana Cannabis operation who is better known for kidnapping a biathlete with his father in the 1980s, was sentenced to four years in prison.