Whether it’s opening a dispensary, starting a unique line of strains and products, or infusing cannabis culture into mainstream society in new and unusual ways, we thought it fitting to honor Black History Month by celebrating 20 African American cannabis entrepreneurs who are pioneers in the pot industry. Remember these names, as they’ll likely be making a huge impact within the industry — if they haven’t already.
You don’t often hear the mention of cannabis on talk shows, but Oren Lomena, host of The Graux, mixes in sports, cooking, and weed in an attempt to make cannabis conversations a part of normal life. It helps when your sibling is a correspondent for MSNBC, too. Lomena’s resume of cannabis activity is long, making him an ideal person to take this leap.
Not only does Jesce Horton own and manage a high-end growing operation in Portland, OR, but until recently he also acted as the director of the Minority Cannabis Business Association. The group’s mission is to increase diversity within the industry, yet as his plants at Panacea Valley Gardens began to gain more and more attention, he stepped down from the MCBA to spend more time with his family.
Tsion Sunshine Lencho
A background as an attorney has served Tsion Sunshine Lencho well, as she co-founded Supernova Women in 2015. A networking platform for women of color who are looking to break into the industry, Lencho’s organization offers a variety of workshops and advocates for ex-offenders who are going through the process of rehabilitation.
Snoop has been a cannabis advocate for as long as anyone can remember. You may be familiar with his line of strains. Leafs by Snoop, which is currently involved in a lawsuit with the Toronto Maple Leafs over his logo. He also launched Merry Jane, a digital cannabis resource.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable names in the cannabis industry, Charlo Greene revealed that she was the owner of a cannabis club in Alaska while also quitting her job on the air. She now hosts The Weed Show, an online resource where she shares interesting ways to incorporate marijuana into your daily life. Greene initially faced decades in prison but has since had all charges dropped.
Infusing cannabis into fine cuisine is no small feat, and chef Miguel Trinidad does so with an exceptional level of skill. His underground and invite-only eatery, 99th Floor, features five courses of food that’s simply out of this world. He’s also expanded his cannabis ventures to create a line of edibles found in select California dispensaries.
Business ventures and a passion for art have come together in the cannabis world for Erik Range, Board Chair of Minorities for Medical Marijuana and co-founder of ART 420. Using cannabis-inspired art with a traveling business model, Range can communicate just how normal, and beautiful, cannabis can be for all.
You may recognize Al Harrington from the NBA, but this former player has made a major career change in what many would say is the right direction. Together with Daniel Pettigrew, he’s co-founded Viola Extracts, one of the nation’s top medical marijuana companies. Inspired by his own grandmother Viola’s battle with glaucoma, Harrington works hard to spread the message of just how effective cannabis can be in a pharmaceutical setting.
Dr. Rachel Knox & Dr. Jessica Knox
We know, technically there are two people listed here, but the Knox family includes four doctors, all of whom counsel patients on the uses of medical marijuana from their Oregon-based clinic. The Canna MDs as they’re called take a therapeutic approach to the plant and educate patients about how it can enhance their health and overall well-being.
Aside from her stellar career in Hollywood, Whoopi Goldberg is committed to making waves in another big way – by manufacturing cannabis products designed to help women with their monthly cycle. She’s partnered with Maya Elisabeth, founder of Om Edibles, to supply California and Colorado with soaks, rubs, edibles, and more. Launched in 2016, Whoopi & Maya has since become one of the biggest brands on the market.
Owner of District Growers in Washington DC, Corey takes a community approach to his cannabis cultivation. The team partners with other businesses in the area and provides individuals with ha igh-quality medical product. Pre-rolls, infused teas, and uncommon edibles like granola bars all make up half of their offerings, while others turn to Barnette for expertly grown flower.
Cannabis use is still heavily stigmatized even in urban areas across the United States, but Andrea Unsworth is dedicated to changing that through her collective named StashTwist. A non-profit and woman-operated business in the East Bay of California, their products include topicals, oils, vape pens, and more.
The cannabis industry is still relatively new in the grand scheme of things, and entrepreneurs don’t always know where to begin. That’s where Shanita Penny comes in with her consulting firm Budding Solutions. Based in Baltimore, MD, she offers services that include product development, branding assistance, help with applications, and much more.
Named the 2018 Cannabis Industry Organization of the Year, the group at Minorities for Medical Marijuana have made huge strides thanks to founder and CEO Roz McCarthy. The team offers advocacy, training, and education to communities across the nation. To date, they have 23 chapters in the US and run their operations in Orlando, Florida. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, McCarthy was included in the High Times 100 Most Influential People in the Cannabis Industry during 2018.
To be the first at something is pretty special, and together with business partner Scott Durrah, Wanda James was the first black woman to own a dispensary in Denver, CO. With a name like Simply Pure, the group obviously focuses on high-quality cannabis and creates organic edibles, concentrates, and CBD oils.
Hope may be a part of a hugely popular entertainment television show, WAGS Atlanta, but her talents aren’t limited only to the big screen. She’s also the owner of Mary & Main, a dispensary in Prince George’s County, Maryland. It doesn’t sound that impressive, until you learn that she’s only 25, making her the youngest dispensary owner in the United States.
Khalifa is just one of a dozen celebrities to jump on the cannabis bandwagon as he’s developed his own line of weed in conjunction with RiverRock Cannabis. The Colorado-based dispensary released the line-up on 4/20, and includes flower and concentrates that Khalifa said took years to perfect. It’s rumored that the strains are modeled after effects that the rapper himself prefers.
A one-woman powerhouse in the marijuana world, Adams initially founded Marijuana Investment & Private Retreat and has since moved to C.E. HUTTON, a firm specializing in business strategy for a range of cannabis organizations. She’s deeply ingrained in the industry and with decades of experience is often one of the first people that entrepreneurs will turn to for help.
Business owners don’t always have the time to attend seminars or make appointments with consulting firms, but Comfy Tree is changing that thanks to Tiffany Bowden’s revolutionary ideas. She’s created a series of e-learning courses that are tailored to each individual’s sector, offering valuable information that’s easily accessible.
Elevating the cannabis experience is a huge focus of the industry, as the desire to completely banish typical stoner stereotypes is strong. Through Apothecarry, owner Whitney Beatty offers some of the most luxurious and discrete cannabis products the market has ever seen, encouraging cannabis users to break free from being a “smoker” and instead become a “conscious consumer.”
Ophelia Chong: Why We Should All Grow Cannabis at Home
In the space of four short years, Ophelia Chong has become an indomitable force in cannabis. The founder of StockPot Photography came into the cannabis industry through family illness and quickly realized there was much work to be done around changing the stigma of cannabis and its users.
A stunning amount of poise and grace adorn her razor-sharp eye and wit. These characteristics have led her through an illustrious career in design advertising and imagery for top-level clients.
She is one of those pushing for all of us to grow cannabis at home — and she leads with her actions. So when you read her words, know that it is preceded with plenty of action.
Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us, who is Ophelia Chong?
Ophelia Chong: Let’s start with the physical. I was born in Toronto, Canada. I became an American citizen in 2000 which I’m very thankful for. Considering our political climate right now, I might not have been able to get in and it would be a harder road today to becoming a citizen. I came down here and graduated back in ‘89 from the Art Center College of Design.
I went into photography to support myself and was hired by David Carson at Ray Gun. I shot for them for about three years. I followed him after he left Ray Gun and worked for about a year for his clients. Because I was in that business of shooting bands and art I was hired by many other labels as well and eventually came up on the radar of some film companies.
One in specific was Strand Releasing, and they are a niche. It was right around the time of Sex, Lies and Videotape… Sundance just started bursting out. I was involved with that because the company I was at acquired a lot of films for Sundance, Toronto Film Festival, Berlin and New York, Outfest, that were in our niche. We were always on the fringe. Plus, a lot of LBGTQ.
What was the majority of the work you were doing at this time?
I was a creative director, so marketing films, designing and we were a very small company, so everyone did a lot — but we did a lot. We either released on DVD or video and also theatrical, probably about 50 films a year. Because of that, I joined Slamdance film festival, which runs congruent with Sundance, for 10 years as their creative director. Releasing and directing their film festivals and all that. Chris Nolan had his first film with us at Sundance.
Then let’s fast-forward to Jennifer Aniston where I got snagged from a film company to design her website, which no longer exists. And I’m not going to say the URL because if you go there, it’s all porn. Someone snagged that all of her real quick. Then from there to publishing; I designed monographs for about 10 books over four years. So, a large monograph. Then I went to magazine design and a lot of illustration as well. Book covers, for Simon & Schuster and I am featured in about 10 books with my illustration work. A lot of work by hand and letterpress. I’ve had many gallery shows, my work is at Saatchi and Saatchi in letterpress. Everything I do, I love it, it just seems to get out there.
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What was the catalyst for your transition into cannabis?
I discovered cannabis in 2015 so I’m a very late comer. I’m not an OG. I’m not one of those people that are out there with Dennis Peron. I’m not going lay claim to that.
I got involved in it for personal reasons. My sister is very ill, she started to use cannabis to relieve some of her issues. She is still on it she is on CBD. And that’s why I came into weed, so we can fast forward to all of this.
So, you didn’t really have interactions with cannabis younger in your life as a designer and an artist?
No, because on March 18 I just celebrated 14 years being sober. That’s sobriety from alcohol. Because of that, in those 14 years, I had to abstain from everything. Because if you are in AA, you can’t say well I can do this, but I can’t do that.
In the last five years, I had to really make the decision to be in this industry. If I’m going to be consuming this, what do I do? So, I made a plan for myself; “OK, so you can start by trying an edible. Then you can only have it at night after your work.”
I have to set up these boundaries for myself. And I still adhere to it now. I only will have one joint at night after I finish working. Usually after eight or nine and if I need to, I’ll take an edible to go to sleep. Because I know my own habits and how I operate and if I don’t control it in that way, it can get out of hand.
What is it about edibles that you like?
It’s going back into working with how your brain works. An edible is not food, but it can be considered food because you’re chewing and tasting. So, I went that way at first. It took me about six months after I was in cannabis to actually smoke a joint. Because there was an inherent fear of falling off the wagon. That was my biggest issue because I had worked so hard to stay sober, so I really needed to work a way that I can smoke and still manage my obsessive compulsiveness. Because alcohol is that. It’s about drinking so much or telling yourself you’re not an alcoholic because you don’t drink on weekdays but you do get flipped on weekends. But that still an alcoholic, it’s the mindset that you use to justify something. I needed to work my way through all that.
So now I really do enjoy smoking and ingesting an edible or a tincture. But in public, if I am driving, I will not smoke because I know the effects of driving under the influence of alcohol. With cannabis, I know how it affects me, I get very tired, basically, it helps me sleep, so I know I can’t do that when I’m driving.
I don’t need to show someone I am in the business by smoking in front of them. They need to understand my reasons why I can’t. I do believe though if you are in this industry, you do need to smoke. I’m not going to hold it against you if you’re not smoking it right there in then. I’m not going to use it as a litmus test like that. Hopefully, people don’t use that on me when I say, “Hey, I would love to, but I just can’t right now.”
Could you speak a little bit more to what you’ve noticed about the ability to use cannabis and have it not affect your alcoholism? What is that discovery like?
Part of alcoholism is the need to disentangle yourself from reality. I use cannabis to fall asleep. I’m not using it to leave where I am right now to a different reality, right? I’m not doing it to get that high. I’m getting high so I can fall asleep. That is the difference.
With alcohol, I was using it to just get out of my own head because of the pressure I was under. I was at the end when I stopped drinking. I was with a company that was very high pressure and also the people I worked with were alcoholics and previous cocaine addicts. I was in this environment with people who had no filters and no boundaries. Being a people pleaser, I would drink along with them and at one point I just couldn’t do it anymore. I looked at my behaviors and I realized I just had to stop.
With cannabis, when I’m around people that are high it’s different because it is a different type of behavior. As you know a drunk is way different than someone who is stoned. What I’m getting at is for my use I see it differently. I see my use with cannabis as a way to relax and fall asleep not to black out and leave reality. When I’m high, I am still in reality, I am still experiencing everything as it is, and I am able to experience it on a level that alcohol wouldn’t let me.
There must have been some trepidation the first time you use cannabis having been an alcoholic?
A little. By the time I did try I had done enough research because I was also creating Stockpot at the same time. I did a huge dive into what cannabis is, the history. I bought a lot of books. I did a lot of research online plus I did a lot of cold calling and ask people “Can you help me?”
It seems like you took your first cannabis consumption on as a design project, doing all the research before you even took one step?
I wanted to know what it was and get past the propaganda. The reason I started Stockpot was to get away from how we viewed cannabis consumers. Because my sister was a consumer, I looked at her and I thought “Man, she’s a stoner” but then again, after I thought that in my head, here I am, a person of color stereotyping my sister, who is ill and about 80 pounds and calling her something that was derogatory in my head. That is the moment I created Stockpot to change my perception of who my sister is… basically that was it. Because how can I do this to her and then I realize it’s because this is the image that I have been fed? So then going into it, if I were going to sell this, then I needed to know what it was.
I did all the research and considered my habits and dipped my toe in. Then I did the foot and then the whole body. Then my whole bucket list. Now also I have images of psilocybin. So now I’ve been microdosing mushrooms because I need to know the effects. If I’m going to sell these images I need to be able to talk about it authentically. Plus, I’m going to be growing them too.
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Speaking of growing, you’re vocal about people growing their own plants?
When I first started Stockpot I went to see a woman up in San Luis Obispo. I call her a white witch, she has an amazing house that almost looks like Goldilocks. Or Hansel and Gretel. But she doesn’t make kids into cookies, she makes weed into cookies. She opened up this mason jar and she said “Open up your hand,” she gave me a few seeds. “They are not feminized and what you were going to do is you are going to go home and you’re going to grow this. This is the only way you’re going to know what this is.”
That first year I grew 23 plants. Probably only had three males. I brought them all the way up to harvest, cured, trimmed. I did everything so I knew this whole friggin plant. I even would call people and say “Can you bring over your magnifying glass to see if she’s ready to harvest yet.” He would say “Ophelia, look at the resin, look at the color look at the trichomes, this is when it’s ready.”
After that I didn’t do that many, I do about ten now because that’s what I can manage. But it was growing a plant all the way from seed to smoking it that made me appreciate what it is. Also learn every part of it, because if I’m going to sell this I need to know everything about it. Convincingly right? So that’s the story of that part of where I am now to destigmatizing my sister to growing the plant plus opening up Stockpot.
How are you getting the message out?
I made three posts on Facebook. First one was if you were going to be in this industry you should be growing a plant. A plant, right? I got a lot of blowback from that. The second one was you should at least smoke it. I got some blowback from that. And the third one after getting a lot of feedback I posted well you don’t have to smoke it or grow you just have to have a really great marketing plan which was capitulation. First I poke the bear but then the whole leg goes up his ass.
It was interesting reading the comments such as “I can’t grow but I still love the plant” and “I live in an apartment and I can’t grow,” which is fine. Or “I can’t grow because I don’t want to get arrested because I have kids.” But when I see these comments I’m kind of thinking well the people who grew had all the same reasons. They have been growing since before Prop 215 and I’ll have the same reasons. But they did it anyway to get you here, to where you are now.
It was slightly ironic in that point where I can’t do this because I have these excuses yet they are trying to build a business off the people who had all the same excuses but went ahead.
One guy even asked me who is Dennis Peron and Prop 215? And he claims to have been growing since fleeing to Colorado so that his kid, who unfortunately did pass away, could get hemp oil right. He asked me who is Dennis and why are you saying LBGTQ is behind this? Then I realized we are even in worse trouble than I thought.
There is a serious lack of education about the history and the heritage upon which this whole thing is built.
Exactly. And probably those three posts brought out a lot of that. The fact is, if you have great marketing then you can get away with it. There are CEOs of cannabis companies who don’t smoke or have never touched a plant. I just really believe if you were going to be a fervent advocate of cannabis at least know the stages of the plant or just learn what it is.
I’m not expecting someone who wants to take pills to go and make Tylenol from scratch, that’s unreasonable. They are not scientists. But to grow something is human. That is how we feed ourselves. It’s from day one of the human race that we had to grow to eat. The fact that you can’t or you don’t want to grow something that you are involved in really speaks to me about why are you here. Because humankind grew to eat right? And to feed their animals, that they then ate as well, or they got milk from. So, it is natural for us to grow something because we have to feed ourselves.
But now we are in this consumer society where you could just go to the store and get some nice package in a nice styrofoam dish with some plastic wrapper that’s containing an animal that’s been slaughtered that you never came in contact with. It’s just a piece of them. Or a bag of carrots, we have no connection anymore to our agrarian roots.
Also, I’m really observant. I was a very shy kid growing up, so I would just sit in the back of the class and just watch everybody and everything. I learn how to be very observant and also watch body language and be that. Now just observing the people in our industry — and again, I’ve only been in it for five years — is very interesting. It is divided into certain groups. And those memes I create talk about those groups. I try not to be too mean. What I do see is the ones that come in for monetary reasons. And then the group that has been in it for at least ten years that are seeing this new group come in and making money, or at least trying to make money. And then you see the group that was 20 or 30 years ago basically working on and living on handouts. Or no one knows their name.
The group now that is making the 18 karat gold vapes get all the media play because they are shiny, they are new, they are young, they are fun. But there are people that have been in it for a long time, like Pebbles Trippet right? She’s not young, she’s not blonde, she doesn’t post the side boob on Instagram. I would say not a lot of people know who she is, but they should. She is one of the few reasons why they able to sell 18 karat gold vapes.
What really ticks me off is that they don’t have any respect for this or where it came from. Of course, I’m involved with some of those people but I’m always taken back when they don’t at least acknowledge where it came from. Especially looking at many of the comment online from people in the industry saying who is Dennis Peron and what is Prop 215? I had to basically send the guy a Wikipedia link to it and say this is the group that made the way for your CBD company. Have some respect for it. Because it didn’t begin with you. So that’s a big issue. Respecting the elders, because they are almost gone.
You are asking the cannabis world to learn how to use design thinking in their process. And the first thing you do in design thinking is you understand history and do research.
Exactly. So well put. We need design thinking in our industry. And I’m not talking about great looking packaging. I am talking about the design thinking of fundamental empathy for the customer and the product. Did you do your research? Did you do your homework? Did you get in and dig in the dirt? Did you throw down and pay tribute and understand whose shoulders you’re standing on, and then, start standing? It’s fine to stand on the shoulders of giants as long as you know and respect who those giants are.
There’s a great designer that I respect whose name is Mau. He put out a book called Massive Change. There is a great quote in there which I feel really reflects cannabis is this one. “Most of the time we live our lives within these invisible systems, blissfully unaware of the artificial life of the intensely designed infrastructures that support them.”
So, for me, this is about cannabis. These people that are coming in now are blissfully and intentionally unaware of what built it, and what supports them. That ignorance, this is what happens when the ignorance hits. When they see that it’s invisible, that’s when their businesses are going to fail.
Billy Ray Cyrus Is a Nug of Weed in His New Music Video
Billy Ray Cyrus has found new life as an ass-kicking nug of weed in his latest video, “Angel in My Pocket.”
The one-time mullet king’s newest single and accompanying music video for the song is an ode to something every cannabis aficionado can recognize: an emergency joint.
The video brings Cyrus, aka Doobie Ray, to life as an animated cannabis bud, complete with the artists signature cowboy hat, boots, and beard. Cyrus voices the character who works at The Nug Nation gas station and breaks into jokes and street fights throughout the blues and country-based song.
The single comes off Cyrus’ latest album, The Snakedoctor Circus, out May 24. “Angel in My Pocket” is written by Don Von Tress, also responsible for the country star’s first chart-topping 1992 hit, “Achy Breaky Heart.”
The music video was co-directed by Potsy Ponciroli of Hideout Pictures and Mikey Peterson of The Nug Nation.
We spoke to Peterson about the process of creating the animation for the music video, and some of his favorite moments from it.
Peterson explained that “Angel in My Pocket” took two straight weeks to complete.
“The team got the green light to create the video on Easter Sunday and delivered it just four days before it premiered on Youtube on May 9,” said Peterson.
The process required “all hands on deck,” said Peterson, adding that The Nug Nation’s team of eight worked every day and night — sometimes for 40 hours straight hours — to create the animated enlivened nugs and storyline.
The hardest scenes to shot were the rocket landing, and the car jumping scenes. Peterson explained that maneuvering the smoke, and the weight and positioning of the car, made it a difficult undertaking.
One of Peterson’s favorites scene is the car’s landing in the hemp field, he explained, “there’s an abrupt stop to the song [and an ensuing joke] which makes it impactful.”
Animation projects like these — and the ones found on The Nug Nation’s website — are shot frame-by-frame, Peterson explained. One second of animated footages takes an average of 24 frames.“A lot of those images are then doubled depending on the scene and if any rigging is needed,” he said. “Rigging is the process of deleting stands and supports that hold up characters or props within a scene.”
The process took around than 10,000 still frames in total to complete the video, which is just over four minutes long.
“Animation is the most tedious form of production you can possibly do,” Peterson said. “Everything is done frame-by-frame.” All materials are hand-built, including the set and characters. After design and filming are done, it goes into post-production, where it’s turned into video and edited, “so the process is more extensive than anyone could ever imagine for one second of video,” he added.
All of the nugs in “Angel in My Pocket” and other Nug Nation creations are made from real cannabis. The cannabis is provided by Whole Meds Dispensary in Denver, Colorado, who select each for its photogenic color and texture.
Not to worry, though, no top-shelf buds were harmed in the making of the video.
“It’s not top-shelf, it’s only used for visuals. No need to waste the good stuff,” he laughed.
The Nug Nation’s collaboration with Billy Ray Cyrus was rather serendipitous.
The company produces a series of stop-motion animated comedy clips. The Nug Nation is part of BurnTV’s original programming lineup. BurnTV is a lifestyle and entertainment network set to launch this summer1.
Each episode of The Nug Nation series takes place in Nugville, a fictional Colorado town. One of its main characters Diesel (named after the famous strain Sour Diesel) works at The Nug Nation Gas Station, which also appears at the beginning of “Angel in My Pocket.”
When asked if Cyrus’ song — whose lyrics include “I lost my job at the station” — was in homage to the comedy series, Peterson said it was a coincidence, one that started a conversation and a collaboration between the video’s co-directors and Cyrus’ management team.
Part of the enjoyment of this project, and animation in general, said Peterson, is the ability to go off script, and “throw in some funny gags.” One example of this is in the video’s fight scene.
“Our lead animator, Jamey Jorgensen, thought it would be funny if the joint just pops up in someone’s mouth [during the fight],” Peterson said. “It’s fun to add little surprises or scenes within a scene that were not originally written. Animators are actors themselves in the sense that they become these characters during the animation process and are given the freedom of improving when they feel the need to.”
Keep an eye out for more Nug Nation collaborations in the near future. While Peterson remains tight-lipped about details, he hinted at an upcoming project which will feature an Instagram series and a well-known artist.
The Times They Are a Changing… But Not for the Cannabis Lifers
As the wave of legalization continues to sweep the nation, many cannabis lifers are still rotting behind bars for non-violent offenses.
Antonio Bascaro, 84, holds the dubious honor of being the world’s longest-serving cannabis prisoner. After spending 39 years behind bars, Bascaro recently received the news he will be released from federal prison on May 1 of this year.
When I posted news of Bascaro’s upcoming freedom on social media, one commentator joyfully quoted Bob Dylan, Oh the times they are a changing!”
Except they’re not.
Not for people like Bascaro and others like him who are serving life and de-facto life sentences in federal prisons for nonviolent cannabis conspiracies.
Naturally, Bascaro, his family, and his supporters are thrilled at the news. After nearly four decades of incarceration, he will finally be allowed to go home. But the changing times and loosening cannabis laws had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Bascaro received no special treatment, despite the fact that he is a first time offender. Barack Obama’s clemency push, which did indeed free many prisoners, passed him by. Despite his advanced age and failing health, compassionate release was also denied.
Antonio Bascaro was simply fortunate enough to live long enough to see his de-facto life sentence come to an end. At 84 years old, he now gets to build a life all over again, in a world that looks very different from the one he left behind. Fortunately, Bascaro has a loving family waiting to help him make the transition.
Times may be changing, but the days in federal prison remain the same.
Crystal Munoz, a young mother of two serving 19 years for drawing a map that circumvented a drug checkpoint says, “I deal with the same emotions each passing day, feeling helpless due to not being able to take care of my responsibilities, like my children. I find strength by seeing the things I have to be thankful for. But the time cannot be replaced. The moments that are missed, the milestones that can never be re-experienced.”
First-time offender Craig Cesal — serving a life sentence for cannabis — concurs. “In prison, all days are virtually the same. We awake at the same time, dress the same way, eat at the same time, and go to bed the same way.”
Like the Dylan quoting social media commentator, it would be logical for people to assume that with the dominoes of prohibition falling, prisoners incarcerated for cannabis would be released. And in fact, this is happening at the state level in some areas of the country. But the federal justice system, where cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, is an entirely different animal.
Short of Presidential clemency, these prisoners have little hope of ever having a second chance at life. But a little hope can go a long way in federal prison.
When I first began working with cannabis lifers about eight years ago, they too were certain the changing times would at long last provide their ticket to freedom. They were always excited to see photos from rallies where I was speaking or booths we had at Cannabis Cups and other events to bring awareness to their cause.
Back then every news story of cannabis about going mainstream, or every new state that legalized medical or recreational cannabis, was another reason to believe that surely, help would soon be on the way for those serving LIFE for cannabis.
Over the years, however, I have watched a lot of that enthusiastic hope slowly fade.
From federal prison rec rooms across the country, the lifers have continued to watch cannabis stories dominate the news. But it is never their stories.
They hear how celebrities, and even former politicians whose policies helped incarcerate them, are now cashing in on the weed game and making big profits. Yet they remain locked away.
They also hear how cannabis is helping people with health problems, including doing miraculous things for children.
John Knock, a first-time offender sentenced to not one but two life sentences for a nonviolent cannabis conspiracy case, recently wrote to me from his prison in New Jersey about a news story he saw about seniors in Orange County, California being bussed to a local medical marijuana dispensary.
For Knock, who has been incarcerated since 1996, the story illustrated just how much the world, in relation to cannabis, has indeed moved on. He could understand how much it is now embracing cannabis and it made him happy to see that seniors now have access to this important medicine. But it also made him realize just how much that same world seems to have completely forgotten about the people like him, who remain rotting in prison for the same substance.
Despite the tireless work of a handful of activists, for the most part, cannabis lifers remain what they always have been, the dirty little secret of the American justice system.
Tell the average citizen that people are serving life sentences for cannabis in the United States and they will either be dumbfounded or not believe you at all.
Even prison staff find it hard to believe these guys are in for life for cannabis, as the lifers are regularly questioned about the absurdity of their sentences.
For federal cannabis prisoners serving endless sentences, hope may wax and hope may wane, depending on the political climate of the world outside. Yet hope always remains a most valuable commodity.
Edwin Rubis, in the midst of serving a forty-year sentence for cannabis, says, “The only way that my prison experience has been somewhat sane is by remaining hopeful that one day I will be released and live a normal life. Without that hope, I do not know where I would be. Probably dead. Because these past 21 years that I have served in prison have been like a hellish nightmare day in day and day out. I try not to think about the next 19 years that I have left to serve.”
Parker Coleman, 33, will be in his 80s by the time his sentence is completed, much like Antonio Bascaro is now. Despite staring a living death sentence in the face every day, Coleman’s strength and optimism remain strong.
“I don’t have hope,” he says, “I BELIEVE, and I know the end result. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, I WILL be resurrected from this death one day.”
Coleman even made a personal and heartfelt appeal to the one person who can actually grant him a second chance, President Donald Trump. “There is power in thoughts and words. A system of actions, backed up by belief, always produces results,” he says.
In the meantime, Coleman and rest of the cannabis lifers hopefully await the next action from the White House and the office of the pardon attorney.
About the Author
Cheri Sicard is the author of Mary Jane: The Complete Cannabis Handbook for Women, The Easy Cannabis Cookbook, and more. Her “hobby” is helping prisoners serving life sentences for nonviolent cannabis offenses. Find her website at CannabisCheri.com and Cannademy.com.
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