When I first met Chris Williams, a medial marijuana grower in Montana, I was intrigued by his openness and candor. Chris was the young, charismatic co-owner of Montana Cannabis, a medical marijuana growhouse serving hundreds of state-legal patients across Montana. When I first interviewed him in August, 2010 for a documentary film I directed about the impact of Montana’s changing medical marijuana laws, I didn’t know where his story would lead. But as I continued to follow Chris as he offered tours of his growhouse to state law enforcement and community leaders, I had a feeling his story would be important. His efforts to create a model for a responsible, transparent medical marijuana business struck me as uncommon and inspiring in a business clouded by fear, misinformation and suspicion.
Our cameras stopped rolling in 2011, and we premiered our film, "Code of the West," at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival in Austin. But even though our film crew had left Montana, Chris’s story kept rolling. Now, as we head into 2013, it’s taken on a new urgency. After a federal crackdown last year, Chris and his business partners were indicted on federal drug charges. Despite his efforts to follow state law and build trust and accountability through community and state outreach, Chris is now facing an 80+ year sentence for a crime that 80 percent of Americans and 18 states think should not be a crime at all. Unless he wins a successful appeal, he’ll be in prison until he’s 120.
According to Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization promoting alternatives to current drug policy, more than 800,000 people were arrested for marijuana-related offenses last year. The vast majority of these arrests were for simple possession. And though the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I Narcotic (with no accepted medical use), an increasing number of states disagree. Today, two states have legalized marijuana for adult use, and 18 states and Washington, DC have legalized medical marijuana use for people suffering from debilitating medical conditions including cancer, epilepsy, severe nausea, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain.
In recent weeks, Chris’s story has become well known. I produced a video for The New York Times that was published on November 7, inspiring tens of thousands of supporters to express their outrage and sign petitions asking for Williams’s pardon or release.
But in order to continue following this critical story, our filmmaking team needs more funds. With a trim budget of $30,000, we can illuminate, on film, the outcome of Chris Williams’s trial—and the path through a drug policy and criminal justice system that is betting its success on the lives of young, honorable, state-law abiding citizens whose work most Americans support. Thus far, we’ve begun to raise the funds on Kickstarter through small donations from backers across the country who agree that Chris Williams’ sentence is a miscarriage of justice that illuminates the failure of our marijuana policies. But unless we raise our entire goal by 9 p.m. EST on December 5, we don’t get a penny—and Chris’s story will be forgotten among hundreds of others like it.
It’s time for a change, not only for Chris Williams’ sake, but the sake of all Americans whose beliefs about drug policy and legislation are not currently represented in federal law and by mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.
If you agree, please consider making a pledge to our project on Kickstarter. Every dollar gets us closer to our goal of $30,000. And every backer shows that we recognize in Chris’s story a depth, integrity and nuance that stands in powerful contrast to the sweeping, oversimplified, and harmful tactics supported by our current drug policy.