The most recent round of federal indictments stemmed from the March 2011 raids of Big Sky Patient Care, Montana Cannabis, and MCM as well as the May 2011 raid of Sleeping Giant Caregivers. This news was a grim reminder of the inherent risks of doing business in this industry as well as the ongoing conflict between state and federal laws. These indictments carried your typical charges of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, the manufacture and distribution of marijuana, and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Some business partners were charged while others were not. One can only speculate as to how the indictments were handed out. Some of the people that were indicted have already made deals. You can’t really blame someone for spilling the beans when they are looking at the rest of their life in a federal prison.
These indictments were obviously very close to home for us. MTCIA Board Member Chris Lindsey was among those indicted. As many of you know, Chris was a caregiver at Montana Cannabis for about a year. He quit working for them in January 2010, 14 months prior to the raid at Montana Cannabis. Some of charges given to him on Tuesday include conspiracy, marijuana manufacturing, and firearm possession.
Montana Cannabis allegedly had guns seized when they were raided. Lots of guns. Chris is looking at a minimum sentence of 690 years and a maximum sentence of 25 consecutive life sentences plus 85 years (yes, you read that right). This is largely due to the number of guns that were seized during the March 2011 raid, more than a year after Chris quit working at Montana Cannabis. Each gun carries a mandatory minimum sentence with the first carrying 5 years and each additional gun carrying 25 years. It doesn’t even matter what kind of gun they are. Any gun found on premises carries the same penalty, even if it was used for hunting, recreational shooting, or just an antique.
We have the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 to credit for that outrageous and absurd sentencing. This Act was initially created to eliminate the disparity of sentences that happens from one judge to another. In reality, this Act stripped judges of their ability to use discretion during sentencing by creating mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses. Under this Act, a drug offense involving a man trying to feed his family must be treated the same as a drug dealer preying on the poor and vulnerable to get rich. A judge must treat the possession of guns in a medical marijuana operation the same as it would if you were running a drug cartel dealing cocaine and heroin. Considering the level of gun ownership in Montana, this poses a major threat to the medical marijuana providers that are also gun owners – especially those operating out of their homes. Just because your guns are not involved with your operation doesn’t mean you cannot be criminally charged for their presence. In Chris’s case, they didn’t even have to be his guns.
Chris would have liked to have made a statement here himself, but was advised against it by his lawyer for obvious reasons. Chris firmly maintains his innocence in regards to his abiding by state law and nothing he was charged with suggested otherwise. He wants this to go to trial and it could be the first case in the state to do so. Chris is choosing to stand solidly behind his principles. Some of the plea bargains that have taken place recently demonstrate just how just how hard that can be.
We have heard through the grapevine that some people think that Chris may have deserved this. He’s a real easy person to point a finger at these days. It’s also an easy way to make some people feel better about their own actions. You might also say that this was just part of the inherent risk of doing business in this industry since marijuana is still federally illegal. If that’s how you choose to see it, then you’re refusing to see the big picture. It’s time to refocus.
Where is your outrage that Chris could spend more time in prison than murderers and pedophiles? Where is your outrage that he is being charged with possession of an assortment of guns seized 14 months after he quit working at Montana Cannabis (guns that were never his in the first place)? Does the father of an eight-year old boy deserve to miss out on the rest of his son’s life for a federal crime that doesn’t even qualify as a crime under our state law?
Where is the sense in that?
There is none, but that’s the War on Drugs for you. Total nonsense.
I’ve been telling a lot people about Chris lately. Everyone has had the same reaction – disbelief. Even if they don’t support medical marijuana, even if they think marijuana should remain illegal, they still can’t understand how someone could spend that much time behind bars for something so benign. Not a single person I’ve talked to has been aware that this is standard practice with regards to the federal government and marijuana, regardless if it is medical or not. We live in the United States of America after all, not some third world country. Sadly, our drug penalties don’t reflect that and have helped the United States achieve the number one incarceration rate in the world. Go USA.
It is time to wake more people up and help them see the full extent of the reefer madness. Change can only happen when the validity of ‘what is’ comes into question. You can play a small part in facilitating that change by sharing this story. There is always a story behind a law getting changed. This could definitely be one of them.
And to all of the remaining providers out there, we strongly suggest you familiarize yourself with the federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. There is no wiggle room, no gray area, even when you are abiding by state law.
Please play it safe.