Political Animal


November 10, 2012 8:34 AM President Obama Must Pardon this Man

By Ryan Cooper

From the New York Times:

Consider the case of Chris Williams, the subject of this Op-Doc video, who opened a marijuana 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.

The story is, by now, a familiar one. Chris Williams was operating an enormous grow operation based on the fact that Montana passed a medical marijuana law and fact that the Obama Justice Department promised they would not go after people who growing marijuana in the boundaries of state law. He was so scrupulous about following the rules that he had local law enforcement and politicians tour his operation on multiple occasions. And then the Obama DEA busted in. During his trial, he was prevented from using the fact that he was following state law as a defense.

This is a sick perversion of justice. If there really were some urgent reason to shut these operations down (setting aside the rather strong possibility that the DEA simply wanted to steal all Mr. Williams’ possessions) then how much easier and more just would it have been to post a notice on the business’s door? Or send an email? Businesses that give tours to the police are not the ones that will disobey a direct order from the government.

Even if that were not possible, President Obama still has the power of the pardon. If Mr. Williams was growing in violation of clear direction from the Justice Department, that would be one thing. But that’s not the case. He is in prison right now because of a campaign promise from the president, one which was codified in writing, and later reversed with no warning.

Barack Obama is, apparently, a man who can be moved to tears by the tireless efforts of his campaign staff. Has he no place in his heart for a man who only started his own business providing medicine, in what he thought was safe legal territory based on the promises of Obama himself? Has he no sympathy for a son who will grow up without a father? Does a prison sentence greater than that for murder or child rape sound fair to him?

Chris Williams should never have been arrested or tried. But it’s not too late for some semblance of justice. Mr. President, free this man.


Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • DJ on November 10, 2012 9:52 AM:

    During his trial, he was prevented from using the fact that he was following state law as a defense.

    Because he was charged under federal law. Google the doctrine of dual sovereignty, and you might understand.

    Another example is those who, because of racist state judicial systems, are never charged with murder or are acquitted; then, if the facts warrant, are charged in a federal case with violating the victim's civil rights. Their acquittal is irrelevant in the federal proceeding.

    All that said, I would have no objection to clemency or a pardon in this case.

  • c u n d gulag on November 10, 2012 10:19 AM:

    "Businesses that give tours to the police are not the ones that will disobey a direct order from the government."

    I don't know about that, Ryan - during Prohibition, Al Capone frequently had Mayors, Police Chiefs, and local politicians in to sample a dram or two of his liqour and brew.

    Having made light of that situation, this man should be pardoned, since he's already been tried by our legal system.

    I think, with the passage of marijuana legalization by several states, we may finally have some momentum to stop trying people nationwide for growing, possessing, or selling, some of the same stuff that our Founding Fathers grew. Both for its hemp, and for "medicinal" purposes.

    And then, maybe we can release all of the millions of poor kids and adults who are in jail.
    Let's help take the profit, out of the "For-profit" prison industry - arguably the absolute stupidest thing to privatize, except for the military, of course.
    Oooops! Too late for that, too...

    You want to minimize the nations drug problem, and deaths due to bad drugs?
    Legalize drugs, regulate the manufacturing of them, and sell and tax them, like alcohol.

  • alwaysiamcaesar on November 10, 2012 10:20 AM:

    Well posed questions for the muse who laments the furies zealous attention to the details which are weightless and unforgiving .

  • Lynd Mathy on November 10, 2012 11:58 AM:

    No matter your state, all who disagree with the federal governments outdated laws and philosophies about marijuana prohibition need to contact their congress persons and demand their help in repealing federal marijuana laws and honor state rights regard same. Petition your congress people to urge presidential pardons for the unjustly federal prosecuted.

    Also, write the president an email, at least, at www.whitehouse.gov and urge his pardoning of the same, prosecuted federally, though they followed state law to the letter. Urged immediate action in this regard so that good people like Chris Williams don't have to wait till the end of the president's next term to receive their pardon. They deserve freedom now!

  • skeptonomist on November 10, 2012 6:49 PM:

    So the real law is not Federal statute, but campaign promises? Please - only a fool would believe that. Was Williams trying to help people who really need marijuana medically, or was he jumping the gun to make a big bundle from selling to the much larger number who use it recreationally?

  • Beahmont on November 11, 2012 1:11 AM:

    Nulification from the left is just as illegal as nullification form the right. I no more like the rules concerning the scheduling of marijuana than most of the people here. I don't like laws against punching Teahadists either, but that doesn't mean anyone can or should faunt either of those laws.

    This all comes down to a very simple principle of the US legal system that we settled with a little war over a hundred years ago, states do not have the right to make legal or illegal something the federal government in proper use of it's authority says is illegal or legal.

    On that note, can someone please explain a rational legal system of marijuana regulation that doesn't have the police going door to door inspecting for 'overcropping' or growing without a liscence? And if you can, does the system you propose then just turn this into another corporatist take over of an industry?

    I know the way we are doing things now with regards to marijuana is wrong, but for the life of me I've not been able to figure out a system that is actually any better for society as a whole, let alone any better for just US society. Most of that comes from not understanding: (a) How do you regulate the growing of a fricking weed? The damn stuff really is classified as a weed and is a preditory plant the makes the soil around it toxic to other plant life and is capable of being grown almost anywhere. It requires very little preperation from plant leaf to usable product. (b) How does anyone expect legalizing the profit making engine of various people, groups, and orgaizations that have a very bad habit of breaking the law for profit to work out any better with drug dealers and cartels than it did with investment brokers, banks, and billionaires or the Robber Barons of olde?

  • Crissa on November 11, 2012 5:49 PM:

    Excuse me, but why doesn't the context - that he was obeying local law enforcement - come into play when charging him?

    Why isn't the federal sentencing also applying to the local law enforcement, if they're so corrupt that this man needs several lifetimes in jail?

  • Chris on November 12, 2012 2:18 PM:

    What is the senator and state representatives doing to help this man? They sure seemed chummy with him a few years back.

  • Beth on November 13, 2012 2:36 PM:

    The White House petition site has a petition up requesting that Mr. Williams should be pardoned. You can find it here:


  • peripeteia on November 19, 2012 2:01 PM:

    I do not have a problem with political views, race, gender as well as various perspectives of our Americans. However, I have a very big problem with liars! How can the people let something of this nature happen?