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.
Yes, You Can Buy & Consume Weed at Outside Lands Festival
Outside Lands festival is making history for the second year in a row with confirmation that consumption will be allowed at Grass Lands, the event’s cultivated cannabis experience.
It gets better.
Not only is on-site consumption allowed, you will also be able to buy cannabis products.
According to the L.A. Times, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control approved on-site sale and consumption to people 21 years and older. The city of San Francisco had already granted its own permit for cannabis use at the event and has suggested other events in the city may also be granted such licenses.
“I think Outside Lands is unique in that it’s a large outdoor music festival in the park — not typically where cannabis events have been licensed,” said bureau spokesman Alex Traverso
“Permitting Grass Lands as the inaugural event is the first step in creating a safe cannabis event space for those aged 21 years and older,” said Marisa Rodriguez, director of the San Francisco Office of Cannabis to the L.A. Times. “Attendees will be able to purchase and consume lab-tested products away from the rest of the venue’s attendees.”
Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener also voiced his approval.
“Cannabis is part of our culture — particularly at music festivals — and it makes sense to allow people to obtain it legally,” Wiener said. “We need to move past prohibition, which doesn’t work.”
According to the Outside Lands website, as long as you have a valid Government-issued photo ID, everything from pre-rolls, flower, edibles, cartridges, and more will be available.
And while there may be designated consumption areas if you’re smoking or vaping in Grass Lands, edibles or beverages can be consumed anywhere within the event’s grounds.
The Grass is Greener at Grass Lands Festival
Outside Lands made history last year with the inaugural Grass Lands event, becoming the first curated cannabis experience at a major American music festival. Held South of the Polo Field (SoPo), Grass Lands was embraced by the extended Bay Area cannabis community as the perfect place to educate, elevate and celebrate cannabis.
“Much the way that Wine Lands celebrates Napa and Sonoma as the leaders in U.S. wine production, Grass Lands will shine a light on the area’s importance as pioneers in the cannabis world,” said Outside Lands co-producer Rick Farman.
This year, presented with Eaze, Grass Lands promises you even higher experience at America’s first legal cannabis consumption music event.
Grass Lands is part of Outside Lands, this weekend 9-11 August in San Fransisco’s Golden Gate Park. Headliners include Paul Simon, Childish Gambino and Twenty One Pilots. Be part of history. Get your tickets here.
‘Masterclass in Medical Cannabis’ Signals Global Change in Cannabis Opinion
The global trend in cannabis legalization and acceptance of the plant as medicine took another leap forward recently. New Zealand’s largest medical cannabis firm and the leading British expert in medical cannabis recently joined forces to host a ‘Masterclass in Medical Cannabis’ series to educate local doctors and healthcare professionals about the benefits of incorporating the plant into their prescription.
Professor Mike Barnes, a highly experienced consultant neurologist and the Director of Education for the Academy of Medical Cannabis based in London, and Helius Therapeutics hosted three ‘Masterclass in Medical Cannabis’ events in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, the first RNZCGP-endorsed professional training of its kind.
Paul Manning, CEO of Helius believes it is “absolutely critical that New Zealand’s doctors have access to professional training in advance of locally-produced medicinal cannabis products becoming widely available from next year.”
“As the country’s largest medical cannabis firm, I feel it’s incumbent on Helius to invest in educational opportunities for healthcare professionals, in what is a rapidly emerging field of clinical practice,” said Manning.
We sat down with Prof. Barnes and Paul Manning to discuss the importance of education, the global trend of cannabis legalization and their mutual concern of the specialist sign-off requirement that’s recommended in the discussion document on New Zealand’s Medicinal Cannabis Scheme.
Professor Mike Barnes
Cannabis Aficionado: Why do you think doctors are so hesitant to prescribe medical cannabis?
Professor Mike Barnes: There are several reasons: lack of knowledge and lack of guidance, also medical cannabis products being unapproved medicines, which means the doctor had to take additional responsibility — so they can be scared of prescribing!
Education is key to informed decision making. In an ideal world, what educational resources would you like medical professionals to have access to?
As many different formats as possible. On-line training, one-day masterclasses like we ran in New Zealand, and written material.
What do you think the most compassionate legal cannabis model looks like?
Wide access to all that may benefit without restriction on conditions that can be treated. Leave it up to the doctor to decide whether its right for that patient (like any other medicine). Allow all doctors (specialists and GPs) to prescribe any GMP standard product.
What parallels do you believe New Zealand has with the U.K. with regards to thoughts around cannabis legalization?
Very similar — general doctor reluctance to be involved — although I felt much more interest than we have in the U.K. That’s for medical cannabis of course. General legalization for recreational use is at about 50:50 split in the U.K. now — similar again to New Zealand.
Have you seen N.Z.’s proposed medical cannabis scheme? If yes, what are your thoughts?
Yes, and it’s generally excellent. The main issue is the proposed prescribing restriction that requires specialist sign off, which is unnecessary. I believe that GPs would make very good prescribers as medical cannabis is mainly a symptom treater and GPs treat the sort of symptoms that cannabis helps all the time, such as chronic pain, anxiety, sleep problems, etc.
What three things do you wish all doctors knew about medical cannabis?
That it is very safe. It is generally different from unregulated cannabis and there is good evidence for several indications.
Any advice for New Zealand moving forward with legalization?
Make medical cannabis products available through GPs without the need for a specialist recommendation. Help all doctors to learn by organizing a range of educational opportunities. And don’t rely on the traditional medical bodies to provide guidance, as they are usually far too conservative – the wrong generation!
Paul Manning, CEO, Helius Therapeutics
Cannabis Aficionado: Why does Helius believe that educating doctors is so important?
Paul Manning: Thousands of suffering New Zealanders will be relying on their GPs for professional advice about medicinal cannabis for a range of therapeutic possibilities, and if appropriate, to access to products on prescription. We strongly believe every Kiwi has a natural right to a pain-free existence.
However, access will not improve unless doctors are well-informed about medical cannabis and how to prescribe the products. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of Australia and the U.K., where doctors were simply unprepared for the changes, causing widespread frustration among patients.
This initiative marked New Zealand’s first RNZCGP-endorsed professional training in medicinal cannabis for doctors on a national scale. It’s a major milestone for our burgeoning medicinal cannabis industry, as well as the healthcare sector.
How did Prof. Barnes become involved?
Mike became widely known after the U.K. Government commissioned him in 2016 to assess evidence for the medical use of cannabis. I had read this report, Cannabis: The Evidence for Medical Use. It helped to change the direction of legislation in the U.K. and acted as a catalyst to the eventual rescheduling of medicinal cannabis in November 2018. He is also the author of more than a dozen books and 200 published papers, several of which have been referenced by our team.
Mike also famously consulted to Alfie Dingley’s case in England, a six-year-old boy who suffers from a rare form epilepsy that was causing up to 150 seizures a month. His seizures have been since dramatically reduced after being given cannabis products. Mike is the Director of Education at The Academy of Medical Cannabis, so I reached out to him about this opportunity.
Did he enjoy himself?
Absolutely. We had an ambitious schedule, to deliver three full-day masterclasses in three cities, so we were flat out, but it was a lot of fun too! I think Mike really liked New Zealand and I know he was very encouraged by the positive response from healthcare professionals down here.
What has the feedback been from attendees?
We had 330 healthcare professionals attend the three masterclasses. The feedback has been fantastic. The majority of attendees were general practitioners. It was a big commitment to join the class for a whole day, and I think this demonstrates just how open-minded many doctors are to medical cannabis.
What is the biggest reason you believe cannabis should be legalized for medical purposes?
Cannabis is an extraordinary, natural treatment for many chronic conditions. These products present alternative to many harsh drugs, such opioids, and can improve the lives of millions of people across the world.
What is one thing you wish people knew about the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis?
You don’t need to get high to get healthy. Even products that contain THC need not necessarily come with a euphoric effect.
How can the public educate themselves on medical cannabis?
There are some wonderful resources available online, such as Project CBD. There’s a fantastic book by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine with the snappy title The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. We’re also working on a unified repository of the world’s published cannabis research, which will be launched in 2020.
Any plans for more events like this again?
You bet. The Masterclasses in Medical Cannabis were just the start. We’ll be rolling out a program of professional and public education initiatives over the next 24 months. Helius has also just signed a quarter-million dollar commitment with BiotechNZ to stage a major education event in New Zealand early next year.
A Frank Conversation with Mowgli Holmes, CEO of Phylos Bioscience
Earlier this year, Phylos Bioscience announced its plan to launch an in-house breeding program. The news prompted outrage within the community, sparking conversations about intellectual property and genetics research across the cannabis industry.
Many cultivators felt betrayed by the idea that the Portland-based cannabis science company would use data they submitted to the Phylos Galaxy — a comprehensive database that documents the cannabis genome — to steal vital cultivar information and use it against them.
Phylos released a statement assuring growers not to worry, that their fears were unfounded. They insisted they weren’t going to use their submitted data to create super strains to put craft cannabis growers out of business. None of that data can be used for breeding, and the breeding work they do will be primarily for large-scale biomass producers. The varieties they do develop for the craft flower market will be released under open-source licenses and should help to keep craft growers in business.
Now, a couple of months have passed. For the most part, Phylos has kept out of the media spotlight. Cannabis Aficionado spoke to CEO Mowgli Holmes to learn more about their approach to large-scale agriculture, plant patents and IP rights, and the future of cannabis.
Growers submitted their genomic data to you with the understanding that it would not be used to enhance any breeding programs. How did you not foresee this backlash from the industry following the announcement of your breeding program?
We didn’t foresee this reaction because this data isn’t useful for plant breeding. It’s just genetic sequence data, with no information on the plants themselves. The purpose of the galaxy has always been to empower everyone to learn from their plant’s data by comparing it to everything else. We made the galaxy and the raw data publicly available so that everyone could have full access to it.
I don’t think this question has really been about the data. It’s about having a company in the cannabis industry that is working with people from big ag. The science we’re using comes from those companies, and we’re hiring scientists who understand it. We’re also a company that is focused on environmental and social impact, and on moving agriculture toward sustainable practices. Cannabis growers don’t trust big ag and they don’t see how we could be working with people from those companies and still have these progressive goals. But we do.
You claim that your new breeding program will focus on large-scale agriculture. Why then do you think there is such a negative response to your breeding announcement from cannabis growers and craft cultivators?
Phylos concentrates on the global market because that’s where the plant needs the most work. I think that a lot of small growers assume that large-scale ag means lousy cannabis, so they don’t respect it. But it matters how the large growers operate. Phylos believes large-scale cannabis and hemp agriculture can actually operate sustainably and we’re committed to doing our part to move it in that direction. We also want to see the craft flower market thrive. We won’t be doing a lot of work there, but when we do it’s going to have a positive impact. The flower plants we release will be good for growers, and breeders will get to keep working with them.
Your presentation to investors at Benzinga seemed to confirm that you will use the submitted data to breed new strains. Why did you tell that to investors if it isn’t your intention? Why do you think your words were misconstrued?
That is not what I said to investors. But when I said that our testing business was a valuable data collection tool, I meant it. Having a high-throughput molecular genetics lab allowed us to generate lots of valuable data, but all of that work has been independent of the customer data we collected. As I said, the data we collected from customers cannot be used for breeding, period.
The data collected from customers was very limited and was made public via the Phylos Galaxy in order to prevent patent infringement and support greater transparency within the cannabis industry’s supply chain. It’s a tool for the industry, including our competitors, to use in understanding varieties and the evolution of cannabis. It’s not a tool that can help with breeding except in a very general way by letting people see relationships — and it’s available to everyone to use in that way.
Have you kept any of the genetic data so you could replicate any of the submitted material via plant tissue propagation?
No, we wouldn’t do that and it’s not possible. You can’t create a living plant from data and you can’t create a living plant from a dead tissue sample. We are not using any of our customer’s plants in our breeding program. The Galaxy is evidence that our customer’s plants belong to them.
We do have a large collection of living cannabis varieties, which we’ve acquired through fair and generous contracts with breeders, and we’re continuing to in-license new varieties.
Was patenting genetics, or your plans to use the data to create your own breeding program, in any fine print that people may have missed?
We’ve never had any plans to use that data for breeding because we always knew it wouldn’t be robust enough to breed with. But we were very openly and publicly building a breeding program meant to support other people’s plant work with our scientific tools. We just weren’t originally intending to do the actual plant work ourselves.
The largest part of a modern plant breeding program is the data infrastructure and we were clear very early on that we were developing genetic markers for breeding. As we’ve said, the customer data had no information on the physical characteristics of the plants themselves and couldn’t be used for breeding. We believed that this simple scientific fact would keep people from making the mistake of thinking we were using it for breeding.
As far as patenting goes, our position has always been that plant patents are fine, as long as they’re responsibly narrow and don’t cover entire categories of plants. Overly broad patents are bad for innovation and bad for the cannabis industry.
The Open Cannabis Project (OCP) closed at the end of May in response to your announcement, citing “deception” as the one reason. What are your thoughts on this situation?
We helped start the OCP to create a transparent and open-source repository of cannabis data that could enlarge the public domain and help to preserve genetic diversity in cannabis. I resigned from the board in order to ensure there was no connection between OCP and Phylos, but the board was already planning to dissolve the organization in December 2018 based on difficulty fundraising.
The OCP knew we were doing breeding work, they knew the science we were using was from big ag and they knew we were going to be willing to apply for limited patents. The OCP themselves have always supported limited patents. They also know how strong my personal commitment is to doing things differently than they’re done in traditional agriculture.
Nothing illustrates the intense emotion around this issue better than this does. Despite knowing all of that, I think they were genuinely shocked to see that we’re working with and hiring people from big ag companies. Progressives see those companies as truly evil, and they don’t have a framework for understanding how good people could possibly be working with them.
Unfortunately, nobody on the OCP board contacted us before they issued their statement. The idea that you could have one foot in both worlds and still be committed to being an ethical company — that’s impossible for many people to accept. But that stance is a decision to leave all of this scientific power in the hands of people you don’t trust.
How can growers trust you when you say you are not using their genomics and data to advance your own breeding program?
Anyone who looks at the science comes to see that you can’t use this data for breeding new plants.
But we are seeing that trust doesn’t come from scientific facts alone. We’re a mission-driven company and eventually people will see the benefits of the work we’re doing. The dust will clear and we’ll be working away, and then people will see.
Why do you think people were so quick to jump to the conclusion that you are using your position and power to harm the very people that you have spent so many years trying to protect?
This is the part that’s hard for me. Phylos has always been clear in our mission to bring science to cannabis and new approaches to agriculture, to preserve genetic diversity, and to help small farmers. It’s pretty crazy to find out that people can overnight decide you don’t mean the things you say. But again, I think the assumption is that if we had good intentions we wouldn’t be hiring scientists and advisors from the major ag companies. We need these people because they understand the complexities of the large-scale agricultural system better than anyone and they are uniquely positioned to help us change it for the better. The team of scientists that have joined Phylos is building an agricultural model that is profitable and sustainable for farmers. We always meant it when we said we cared about the craft flower community. But we also care about agriculture as a whole.
What is your desired achievement with your breeding program?
I got a lot of shit for saying this, but I’m just going to say it again: Phylos is going to create outrageous new plants. They’re going to work better for farmers and for consumers and they’re going to be constantly evolving.
We also believe that it’s important for us and the industry to give both fair credit and fair compensation to the breeders who have created amazing plants already and those that continue to do so. We are already signing agreements to make sure those breeders get paid as they should, and we hope it becomes the standard way of acquiring plants in the industry.
Phylos has built its mission around preserving the genetic diversity we’ve inherited. At the same time, we’re going to drive forward into the future of what this plant can do, which really will be incredible. We need to do both of those things.
We’re combining advanced science with sustainability principles. We’re using traditional breeding driven by genomic knowledge. We’re studying methods that let farmers minimize inputs costs at the same time as they’re building healthier soil. We’re going to help farmers profit from sustainability — and we’re going to make sustainability work better because it’s driven by hard data.
Where does Phylos Bioscience go from here?
We have to accept that some people see big ag companies as the enemy and they don’t trust anyone who’s working with them. But we need to have companies who can use the science from big ag in ways that are driven by a sense of social responsibility. We need to have companies who can figure out how to support environmentally sustainable approaches as they use this science. We need to have companies that are a bridge between these two worlds.
Phylos has one foot in the cannabis world and one foot in the world of large-scale agriculture. The role of our company is to be a bridge between these two worlds that don’t trust each other. To make it work, we’re going to have to be really committed to maintaining our values and measuring our success based on them. We’re going to have to be a little bit like Switzerland and work with everyone. We have to accept that we’re not going to make everyone happy, but we’re going to make damn sure the farms that work with us are successful.
To us, that means that they’re sustainably successful in ways that work long-term for them, and their workers, and the environment. For most of these larger farms the first step is simple: start growing hemp.
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