I don’t know if you can remember where you were or what was going on in your life 31 years ago. Most of us would have to stop and think about it. But Calvin Robinson remembers it well.
In 1988, Robinson was a tugboat captain on the Intrepid Adventure in the San Francisco Bay. In the spring of that year, under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, he was arrested for pulling a barge loaded with 43 tons of hashish and 15 tons of marijuana. At the time this was the largest marijuana arrest in U.S. history.
For Calvin Robinson, time stopped that day.
Crime and Punishment
When the dust settled after a drama-filled trial, Calvin Robinson received a sentence of life without parole for his involvement in the drug smuggling conspiracy. Calvin spent the next 34 years working, without any outside help, sending appeal after appeal to the courts. To no avail.
He watched murderers, rapists, and thieves come and go, all of them serving less time then he had been given for a non-violent marijuana offense.
From inside the walls of the federal penitentiary in Victorville, CA, Calvin watched the world change. The marijuana industry was booming. Laws were changing. Public stigma was slowly fading and people were beginning to understand that marijuana is not a harmful drug. The public could even go into a store and legally buy marijuana and hashish!
Yet Calvin remains behind bars.
In 2014, I saw a Facebook post about four men, all part of the same marijuana conspiracy, all serving life without parole sentences for marijuana: Calvin Robinson, John Knock, Claude Duboc, and Albert Madrid.
I decided to send them each a card to cheer them up and let them know they were not forgotten. At the time I had no idea how that one card would change my life, and how it would lead to an enduring and deeply meaningful friendship with Calvin Robinson.
I made a Facebook page for Calvin and asked him to send me a picture. That was when I saw the miracles start to happen.
Soon after I met writer and activist Cheri Sicard, and Calvin not only received more exposure, he found a new friend. Then, attorney Cait Boyce began to help. Then Tracie Gloor-Pike, whose son Lance Gloor’s incarceration for cannabis had turned into a prison activist, joined in.
Calvin was still incarcerated, but for the first time since he had been locked up, he knew he was not alone and he was not forgotten.
Calvin had been battling cancer for five years without medical treatment and it was spreading and getting worse. We started protesting and through a letter writing campaign were at least able to get him transferred to the prison hospital at Butner Federal Medical Center in North Carolina.
Sadly, it might be too little too late, as after having gone untreated for so many years, Calvin’s doctors at Butner predicted his cancer would take his life within 18 months. But if anyone believes in miracles, it is Calvin, whose rock-steady spiritual conviction and large stature earned him the prison nickname of “The Gentle Giant.”
The New Prison Reform Act
In 2016, President Trump passed the new First Step Act. Calvin meets the requirements because of his age, declining health, and the amount of time he had already served. He should have been first on the list for a reduction in sentence.
In reality, Calvin has been stonewalled by the prison system. Despite countless letters and pleas to prison staff, they have done everything in their power to keep Calvin from coming home.
Calvin and I have spoken many times. He knows that the fight for freedom is not just about him. It is about the stigma of marijuana and a judicial system that makes money off every marijuana arrest and conviction.
The bottom line is, Calvin, and every prisoner like him is worth at least $35,000 a year to the prison. They don’t want to lose that money.
There is some hope, however, as Mary Price of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) just wrote Calvin to let him know that his new request for a reduction in sentence is currently in the DC office of the General Counsel. We pray the counsel does the right thing and quickly.
I don’t know what will ultimately happen to Calvin. Maybe he will die in prison. Maybe he will be released, although that would have to happen soon.
What I do know is that over the last five years I have been a first-hand witness to the incredible strength and resiliency of the human spirit and how that spirit can come alive and thrive when its flames are fanned with love.
In essence, at this stage of the game, Calvin’s story really isn’t about Calvin any more. It is about all of the activists and members of the public who have reached into prison to give the only real thing they own: their time, their love, and their concern. That and his unshakable faith in Yahvah is what has kept the Gentle Giant going, even through times of utmost adversity.
Write to Calvin Robinson
If you would like to send a letter of encouragement, please address it to:
Calvin Lyniol Robinson # 83327-011
PO Box 1600
Butner, NC 27509
Please note, BOP rules only allow for ink and paper in white (only) envelopes. No greeting cards, nothing can be stapled, attached, or glued to the letter, ink and white paper only. Photographs are OK.
Brad Schluter is an advocate and activist who remains committed to those serving prison time for marijuana.
5 Tips for Owning and Operating Successful Cannabis Dispensaries
The cannabis retail landscape has changed. Once regarded as somewhat of a novelty, legalization has allowed cannabis dispensaries to evolve into modern and innovative retail storefronts more akin to an Apple Store than the dark, secretive spaces they used to be. Some, like Shiny Bud, are proving to be leaders in the space, setting an exemplary standard of a contemporary cannabis retail experience.
Shiny Bud is one of Canada’s most successful dispensary chains. They pride themselves on offering customers a premium experience from the moment they enter, from a contemporary and inviting store design to highly trained staff, and of course, premium products.
Co-founder Alex Ledesma joined the cannabis industry when the Canadian government passed the Cannabis Act in 2018. She comes from a forward-thinking family of entrepreneurs, so the move to cannabis was an obvious next step.
“I saw an opportunity to be part of something big in Canada’s history, so we started following the industry, and applied for an application,” said Ledesma.
Shiny Bud opened its first dispensary in Toronto on February 14. Fast forward only a few months, and the company has opened the doors to its fifth location in a small town called Orleans, just outside of Ottawa.
“We have a pretty aggressive rollout,” said Ledesma. “Coming from a quick-service industry, we’re quite comfortable with builds and finding locations. We took our expertise from that and put it into cannabis. And it’s all completely within the family.”
Shiny Bud was awarded 75 dispensary licenses by the Canadian government. The company’s expansion plans include two more Ontario store openings this year, bringing the total number of store openings to seven. And they have no plans to slow down.
“We should be hitting 30 stores by the end of 2021. And we’re planning on maxing out to 75 stores allocated. When we stop to think about it, it can take our breath away.”
The constant march forward of legalization has created an ever-growing interest in dispensary ownership. Below, Ledesma offers up five pieces of advice for those looking to enter the cannabis game.
1. Have a Well-Trained Team That’s Focused on Customer Experience
As the industry is still so young, formal education in cannabis is still relatively scarce amongst prospective employees. For Shiny Bud, this presents an opportunity to reinforce one of their most important business objectives: provide cannabis education and training for their budtenders to pass on to their customers.
“Education is everything because the industry’s so new,” Ledesma said. “We truly believe that we’re an industry where we need to listen to our guests. This is one of the first things we teach our budtenders, along with providing a safe and educational experience for our customers in-store.”
For many customers, the biggest value in going to a dispensary is learning which products are best suited for a specific condition or effect, whether they’re seasoned cannabis consumers or newly curious.
“The goal for budtenders at Shiny Bud is to ensure customers are choosing the right product for them to provide a safe experience both in-store and at home,” Ledesma said.
2. Create a Guest Centric Environment
This goes without saying, but customer service is critical to the success of any retail operation. Ledesma attributes Shiny Bud’s success to the brand’s core vision of providing a “fast and friendly cannabis retail destination.”
“We strive to offer our customers a unique and memorable experience — this has stayed with us since day one,” Ledesma said. “When you walk into any of our Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries, they’re bright, they’re big, and there’s a lot of education. The budtenders are dressed uniformly, and there’s personality — it’s not what people expect.”
Watching the change in customer demographic has been encouraging to Ledesma, who notes the increase in the 60+ demographic looking to add cannabis to their health and wellness, whether it be recreational, or to aid with a specific ailment.
“As a disclaimer, we always have to tell them that we’re not doctors and we can’t give them medical advice, so to start low and go slow,” Ledesma said. “It’s nice to see people like my mom, my dad, and grandparents come through the door, because you also know you’re helping break down the stigma.”
3. Stock the Best Inventory
With so many quality products now available, choosing which ones to bring to Shiny Bud is quite a lengthy process.
“We carry out a lot of research in terms of what’s new or trending, and what our customers are looking for in each location,” Ledesma said. “I wish I knew consumers’ buying preferences before our initial order was placed. We ended up buying too much!”
“We also use recommendations from our team members, our budtenders, and our customers. A lot of times we bring in representatives of the licensed producers to educate our budtenders about the products we’re selling.”
The three most popular purchases across three Shiny Bud locations are dried flower, vapes, and pre-rolls. “Our most frequently asked question is, ‘what is your highest THC or CBD?’” Ledesma said.
4. Have a Great Location
The age-old proverb of “location, location, location” rings true in the cannabis industry, too. Finding the right real estate is arguably the most important part of retail success. Plus, because of the industry’s prohibition history and the nature of the products being sold, it’s important to find understanding landlords.
“Initially, landlords have said to us, ‘absolutely not, we will not entertain the idea of having a cannabis retailer here,’ so I invite them to take a look at one of our dispensaries so they can see the vision of what and who we are as a company and as an industry.”
5. Ensure Your Cannabis Dispensaries Connect with the Community
Dispensaries are already major focal points in their communities. For Ledesma, giving back and helping break down old stigmas related to cannabis is a top priority.
Shiny Bud is in the process of launching a collaboration with Tsaichedelic to create a line of tie-dyed tees and other merchandise. The proceeds will go towards supporting Cannabis Amnesty projects, like providing legal counsel to get those with criminal records over minor cannabis charges expunged.
“Being a woman and a person of color in the cannabis space, I really believe in the fact that it needs to be the same playing fields for everybody,” Ledesma said. “Teaming up with Cannabis Amnesty just felt right.”
With the regulated cannabis market still so new, it’s important that business owners are able to adapt to changes and weather the ever-changing landscape of cannabis and the regulations.
“It’s ever-changing, so we’re constantly learning and growing from it,” Ledesma said. “Regulations are always changing, so being fluid helps a lot.”
Look for Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries in Canada and keep an eye out for their expansion into America in 2021.
Gwyneth Paltrow and a Slew of Celebs Invest in ‘Social Tonic’ Brand, Cann
Gwyneth Paltrow is one of several high-profile celebrities investing in cannabis-infused beverage company, Cann.
Rebel Wilson, Ruby Rose, Darren Criss, Tove Lo, Casey Neistat, former NBA star Baron Davis and Bre-Z have also invested in the company.
The actress and Goop CEO and founder calls cannabis a “hero ingredient of the future” for wellness and says she was drawn to Cann’s drinks, which are infused with small doses of THC and CBD, as an appealing alternative to alcohol.
“There’s a whole sober-curious movement that’s going on and the cannabis-curious movement that’s going on, this is kind of at the intersection of those things in a way,” said Paltrow.
Cann is not the health and wellness moguls’ first cannabis investment. Paltrow admitted that while she’s not a big cannabis user personally, she acknowledges its “amazing medicinal qualities.”
“There’s no reason why alcohol should be so much easier to purchase than Cann, and I’m confident the founders will lead the charge in finding ways to integrate it into the same purchasing channels and drinking environments,” she said via a news release.
Cann founder Luke Anderson called the comments made by Gwyneth Paltrow “a sign that Cann (and microdose beverages more broadly) are a viable answer to that very common consumer pain point.”
He added that when people think of Paltrow, “they don’t think of ‘weed’ – they think of cutting-edge solutions for today’s health and wellness needs.”
Cann has positioned itself as a “healthy” and hangover-free alternative to alcohol. Most of Cann’s “social tonics” contain roughly 30 calories and are “microdosed” with 2 milligrams of THC and 4 milligrams of CBD. A recently introduced Pineapple Jalapeño flavor contains 50 calories and 5 milligrams of THC.
Earlier this year, Cann secured $5 million in funding as part of the company’s 2020 production and distribution expansion plans for 2020.
According to TechCrunch, the beverage startup has sold 150,000 cans, which retail for $4 each, since last May. Cann products are available at just 60 dispensaries in California, and online via the Eaze cannabis marketplace, making the $600,000 in revenue the company generated in less than a year even more impressive.
Miss Marijuana: Canadian Beauty Queen Alyssa Boston Is on a Mission to End Stigmas
Alyssa Boston is a woman on a mission. The 24-year-old Canadian beauty queen is using her platform to start a conversation on ending stigmas around mental illness, competing in pageants — and cannabis.
While she doesn’t actually smoke weed, Canada’s crowned Miss Universe caused a media uproar when she wore a sparkling cannabis-inspired look during the 2019 Miss Universe competition in Atlanta, Georgia.
Cannabis Aficionado spoke to her about breaking stigmas, social media and of course, that costume.
CA: How was your Miss Universe experience?
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