HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A jury on Thursday convicted a medical marijuana provider of drug trafficking and firearms charges, upholding the U.S. government's raids of state-regulated pot dispensaries in its first test at trial.
The provider, Chris Williams, was barred by the trial judge from making the case that he and Montana Cannabis followed the state medical marijuana law that voters approved in 2004. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled state laws were irrelevant in the case involving alleged violations of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
So Williams all but conceded the federal drug violations of which he is accused — conspiracy and the manufacture, possession and distribution of marijuana. He took the stand Wednesday and told jurors he was the "farmer" for Montana Cannabis' grow operation in Three Forks and then Helena, from where the drug was distributed to registered users across the state.
"It would be foolish of me to stand here and tell you that Mr. Williams wasn't in the business of growing marijuana. He was," defense attorney Michael Donahoe told jurors in his closing statement Thursday.
Donahoe instead focused on the four firearms charges against Williams, attempting unsuccessfully to persuade jurors to dismiss them.
The jury deliberated for nearly six hours before reaching a guilty verdict on all eight counts against Williams. Marshals took then Williams into custody.
Williams said he hopes to resurrect his state law versus federal law argument in an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"I am willing to risk my life for my view of the Constitution," he told The Associated Press before the verdict.
A sentencing date has not yet been set, and the jury was told to return to court Friday to hear evidence on claims of monetary forfeiture.
Williams' case is the only one to go to trial after the government raided 26 medical marijuana provider homes, offices and business on March 14, 2011, in a crackdown on large Montana grow operations and dispensaries. The investigation began as the Montana medical marijuana registry started swelling by thousands of people per month following a 2009 Department of Justice memo that suggested the government would not prosecute individuals who were following state law.
The raids drove many providers out of business or underground, and a state law passed months later banned providers from receiving any compensation for their services or distributing to more than three registered users. The state Supreme Court earlier this month upheld that provision of the law.