NYT op-doc on medical pot grower in MT who faces life in prison

At the NYT, a video "opinion documentary," ‘The Fight Over Medical Marijuana’, by Rebecca Richman Cohen.

"Our federal marijuana policy is increasingly out of step with both the values of American citizens and with state law," she writes. "The result is a system of justice that is schizophrenic and at times appalling."

After the elections, medical pot is now legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C., and pot is legal for adults to use for recreational use as well in Colorado and Washington State. But the federal government plans to continue its draconian enforcement approach, regardless of state voters' choices.

Her short film focuses on the case of a medical cannabis grower, Chris Williams, who opened a grow house in Montana after the state legalized medical cannabis.

Mr. Williams was eventually arrested by federal agents despite Montana’s medical marijuana law, and he may spend the rest of his life behind bars. While Jerry Sandusky got a 30-year minimum sentence for raping young boys, Mr. Williams is looking at a mandatory minimum of more than 80 years for marijuana charges and for possessing firearms during a drug-trafficking offense.

Watch the op-doc here.


  1.  Can someone please explain to me (as a(n ignorant) foreigner) how Federal and State laws can differ? Who then enforces what? Is anything done about discrepancies?

    1. My understanding is that the original intention of the US founders was that the Constitution would really be the extent of the federal government. It sets up our basic human rights and the way that the executive, judicial, and legislative branches work. The intention was that the federal government would be a regulatory body for the state governments, meaning laws could vary widely between states as long as they upheld the basic rights set forth in the constitution. However, it hasn’t worked out that way. The federal government has seen fit to make laws about drugs, marriage, and a huge variety of other things that they really don’t have the constitutional right to stick their nose in (and I’m saying this as a liberal– although I do think marriage should be a human right). At this point, the feds can basically pull rank over the state. I don’t know if the state really has any recourse.

      1. “The federal government has seen fit to make laws about drugs, marriage, and a huge variety of other things that they really don’t have the constitutional right to stick their nose in”

        Civil Rights legislation of all variety…

    2. Corl has the right idea. Historically, the states would have each been sovereign after the revolution but chose to join together to form the US. The Constitution explains what powers the Federal gov’t should have. Over the years the federal gov’t has expanded beyond that by interpreting vague passages broadly. For example, the power to regulate interstate commerce has over time expanded to include any product, any part of which crosses state lines – including drugs. When lawsuits challenge whether a state or the federal government has the power to pass and enforce a law it has passed, the Supreme Court gets to decide who is right. It can declare laws (federal or state) or parts of laws unconstitutional.

      In this particular instance, both the federal and state governments have laws about marijuana. Essentially, what the states are doing is saying “We are no longer going to prosecute people for marijuana use at the state level under these conditions,” and in some cases “We aren’t going to help the federal government enforce their laws either.” But the federal government can and does do its own investigating and prosecuting, which is what is going on here.

  2. If every federal agent involved in this were fired tomorrow and not replaced, the country would be better off.

  3. I’m curious now about the fate of state prisoners in CO and WA who are now serving time for something that is no longer illegal. Do they get transferred to federal facilities? Do they get to go free?

    I imagine those serving in federal prsions for these crimes are just SOL, they merely enjoy a status change from petty criminal to political prisoner.

  4. Be sure to check out the Times Op-Ed from 11/7 by one Ed Gogek entitled “A Bad Trip For Democrats.” The writer claims to be an expert on addiction and lays out some typical arguments against medicalization or legalization. The punch line is that the guy is a homeopath!

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