Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Montana marijuana case inspires Code of the West update

Posted By on Tue, Nov 13, 2012 at 1:14 PM

Code of the West, a documentary that chronicles the 2011 legislative fight over Montana’s medical marijuana law, screened at Missoula’s Wilma Theater in May. The film ended with a postscript about one of the its main characters, Tom Daubert, noting that the chief architect of the state’s medical marijuana law had rejected a plea bargain with the federal government that would have resulted in at least 10 years in prison. He was still awaiting his fate.


We now know it: In September, Daubert received five years’ probation.

That sentence, while relatively lenient, was in line with what the director of Code of the West, Rebecca Richman Cohen, had expected. “But we certainly never anticipated that Chris Williams”—another main character in the film—“would go to trial and face charges that carry such draconian mandatory sentences attached to them,” Cohen said by phone a day after Code of the West aired in New York City on Nov. 12.

Williams was a partner in Montana Cannabis, one of the largest caregivers in the state and among the medical marijuana business raided by federal authorities in March 2011. Williams opted out of a plea bargain, saying, “This is nothing more than slavery and completely disregards my rights as a citizen of the United States of America. I have declined the offer.” A jury has convicted him, and he now faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 80 years in prison. He's requested a retrial.

Cohen said Williams’ fight against the federal government is too pivotal a development for an epilogue, so she’s hoping to update the film and flesh out Williams’ story. Cohen created a Kickstarter campaign to raise $30,000 to fund the work, and she’s more than a third of the way to her goal after just two weeks. The fundraising campaign runs through Dec. 5. Once the money’s raised, Cohen believes she can update the film in about six weeks. She hopes to screen the new version in Montana in the spring.

Of course, the film’s context has also changed in the wake of the recent elections. Colorado and Washington essentially legalized marijuana, further muddying the question of how the federal government will reconcile federal and state marijuana laws going forward.

“If those states had won by narrow margins, then I think things might be stickier, but those states won by large margins,” Cohen said. “In fact, in Colorado, more people voted for marijuana than they did for Barack Obama. And so that makes it politically very difficult for the administration to continue this crackdown on marijuana growers. But I don’t think by any means it’s a forgone conclusion.”

Here's a New York Times op-doc about Williams that Cohen published last week:

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