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.
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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