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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.

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Cannabis Lifers
PHOTO | Adobe Stock

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.

Antonio Bascaro

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

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.”

Craig Cesal

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

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

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.

Parker Coleman

“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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An Old Cucumber Farm Is Now Home to Nevada’s Largest Grow Op

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Flower One
PHOTO | Flower One

An old cucumber greenhouse is now home to  Nevada’s largest state-of-the-art cannabis cultivation and production facility.

Flower One is celebrating day one of its first ongoing harvest of over 100,000 plants at its 400,000 square foot greenhouse and 55,000 square foot processing and custom packaging facility.

The company expects to produce 140,000 lbs (or 62,500 kg) of hydroponically grown dry flower annually.

The announcement signals ever-growing confidence in Nevada’s cannabis industry, which has exploded since the state legalized recreational cannabis in July 2017, making an estimated $608 million in cannabis product sales.

President and CEO, Ken Villazor is proud of what his team has accomplished.

“What a surreal and memorable day for the Flower One team,” said Villazor in a press release. “With a completed production facility, and operations now in full swing, we are proud to have completed Flower One’s inaugural harvest today, initiating our ongoing harvest and paving our ability to become the state’s leading provider of high-quality, hydroponically-grown cannabis.”

Villazor continues, saying they are excited to “witness the complete transformation of Flower One’s greenhouse for cannabis production at scale.”

“Not long ago, this facility was used to grow cucumbers. Growing healthy crops with a significant yield requires a broad team of dedicated professionals to deliver results. To now be able to observe the fully built production capacity – and the significance of our contribution to Nevada’s budding cannabis market – is a huge milestone for Flower One. We could not be happier with the results.”

Since renovations began back in May 2018, more than 138,000 hours of renovation and construction went into converting the building, which is 100 percent canopied.

Watch the project unfold in the timelapse in the video below.

Flower One also owns NLV Organics and operates a 25,000 square-foot indoor cultivation and production facility in Las Vegas with nine grow rooms. Combined, these facilities provide the company’s capacity for high-volume production and processing of flower, extract, and infused products.

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10 Questions: Serge Chistov on the Future of Cannabis

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PHOTOS | The Honest Marijuana Company

In the ever-changing cannabis market, one issue the industry needs to address is becoming paramount: the environmental impact of legal cannabis. At a time when we are concerned about plastic waste and reducing our consumption of the material, we should be using our purchase power to support eco-friendly companies.

The Honest Marijuana Company utilizes all-natural cultivation methods to produce organic and eco-conscious cannabis products. The Colorado-based company packages their products in Earth-friendly recyclable tin cans with pure nitrogen, ensuring the cannabinoids and terpenes remain of the highest quality. The company also recently launched their new Honest Blunts, the first organic hemp-wrapped, machine-rolled cannabis blunts.

Serge Chistov is the financial partner of HMC. He talks to us about what he sees as the future of our ever-changing industry.

Cannabis Aficionado: What is the future of cannabis?

Branded products and repeatable consumer experience will be major industry focuses. The industry is maturing and American consumers now demand quality, innovation, ease of use..anything that has to do with buying your product from Amazon. More and more Americans would vote today for the federal legalization. There will be new products and the same rules will apply to cannabis as they would for other products.

I also think that the hemp extract and some of the other cannabinoids will play an important role in dietary supplements and the overall consumption will be greatly extended with the new generation of products.

What trends are shaping cannabis in 2019?

I think bud smoking will stay with us but be reduced by the innovations and new technologies that deliver cannabis, like properly designed edibles and dissolving pills. Seniors and soccer moms will also become bigger consumer groups in the cannabis industry. Older people who were influenced by the stigma of cannabis are slowly but surely catching on. With soccer moms, right now there is a big conversation about more delivery services in the industry, which may take away the stigma of going into the pot shop and associating with the unknown element.

What technology will have the biggest impact on the cannabis industry?

There will be a new generation of edibles and topicals. I’m talking about a nanotechnological approach that turns non-water-soluble substances like cannabinoids into nano-size so they can be added into transdermal patches, topical lotions, and more for the cleanest, most efficient, healthiest, and most discreet cannabis consumption. This would allow for a smokeable-like effect without the smoking. Products made with nanotechnology are effective, as you don’t need to consume a lot to get the desired effect. It is also healthy because they allow you to obtain medical benefits from cannabis without smoking and sacrificing your health in exchange.

Have we reached peak CBD?

No, I don’t believe so. I think that the hemp extract and some of the other cannabinoids will play a pretty important role in dietary supplements and the overall consumption will be greatly extended with the new generation of products. So no, I don’t think we have reached peak CBD.

Are vape pens going to replace bud smoking? Why or why not?

No, I don’t think they will. They will be an additional method of use. Some people I know who use vape pens are new users or they like the convenience. It is way easier to use a vape pen conspicuously in the public and while traveling. However, I think bud smoking will stay with us, as it is a traditional and long known way of consuming cannabis. It will be reduced by the innovations and new technologies that deliver cannabis, such as properly designed edibles, dissolving pills, oral dissolvable strips — things that will ‘skip the first pass’ of the human body will eventually take a bigger chunk out of the consumers who smoke bud and use vape pens.

How savvy are cannabis consumers when it comes to knowing the different strains?

They are not as savvy as we would want them to be, but they are definitely way savvier than they were five years ago. Consumers are still talking about their perceived values of different strains, without truly realizing that a majority of them are hybrids. There are no specifically unique indicas or sativas — there are indica or sativa-dominant hybrids because a lot of the cannabis genetics in the country are all mix-matched and there was no uniform approach to market them. So, yes, there is a long way to go as far as us educating the consumer. There is still a lot of work to be done.

What demographic do you see having the most growth? Hipsters? Oldsters? Soccer moms?

Seniors and soccer moms will become bigger consumer groups in the cannabis industry. Hipsters have been puffing away and the legalization is just another opportunity for them to experience new ways of consuming and new, improved technological advances. Older people who had a stigma are slowly but surely catching on with cannabis, with the societal changes that are changing that stigma. Baby boomers are a massive demographic. We would love or them to start participating in using cannabis. They are the largest demographic in the country! Obviously, with soccer moms, right now there is a big conversation about more delivery services in the industry, which may take away the stigma of going into the pot shop and being associated with the unknown element. As more and more of the industry develops and allows people to buy cannabis discreetly to use in the safety of their homes, I believe more and more of these demographics will be big participants.

What product is most likely show the most growth: Smokables? Edibles? Topicals?

There will be a new generation of edibles and a new generation of topicals. I’m talking about a nanotechnological approach that would allow for a smokeable-like effect without the smoking. I do believe that that will be huge.

What new challenges will the industry face going forward?

The challenges are the continued regulations, the unknown of the federal legalization, and that we are not in a competitive state. Americans are competitive people and now our hands are tied. Canadians are doing what they’re doing and have all the funding in the world. Compare our industry to the stock deals done out of Canada. Just think about it. They are coming across the border and are able to accumulate resources and opportunities on our land. All of this is strictly funded by privateers, by people with their savings and their reinvested earnings. This is an unfair competitive landscape and I hate the sound of it! We are the ones who are pioneering the industry in Colorado and California and it turns out to be like an old joke — pioneers get shot and settlers are the ones who are making money! It’s not good.”

Is the market going to be more for dispensaries or delivery?

I believe it will be a healthy combination of the two. I believe that there will be an online presence, where the consumer will be able to be educated just like it is right now with any other goods or service industry. Then there will be the consumer who would like to go and actually chat with people who are in the know and in the action, just like you would go and select your wines. In this instance, you go into the store that has a great selection of brands and you will find two or three bottles that you really like, but this does not mean that you would not on occasion order them online just for the convenience of your day to day life. I believe it will be a healthy combination of the two, and it’s for the better.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?

That is a good question! What I know now that I wish I knew when I was starting is that the changing regulations continue changing. I understand that the government is trying to find their footing, but because of this the manufacturers and logistical personnel need to continue changing the packaging and labeling and adjusting how we bring our product to the market. That would be helpful to know and I would have thought by now that the banking system would be more available to the cannabis industry as well, but that is still not happening. Other than that, our expectations were very limited, because starting in the industry was a freedom and an opportunity to finally do what we are passionate about and share that with the rest of the world.

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The Emerging Science of Psychedelic Therapies for Our Wellbeing

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Psychedelic Therapies
PHOTO | Martina

This month, the city of Dever Colorado made the landmark decision to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. It’s the first U.S. city to do so. More famously known as “magic mushrooms” these intoxicating yet non-addictive fungi grow naturally throughout most of the United States. And yet, psilocybin and psilocin have been illegal in the country since 1969, when the use of psychedelic drugs became widespread in consumer culture.

In Denver, the initiative to decriminalize passed with a narrow margin—50.6 percent of voters approved the bill. Dubbed Initiative 301, the bill makes the personal possession of magic mushrooms among those 21 and older one of the lowest law enforcement priorities. The bill also prevents city authorities from spending money on resources dedicated to prosecuting or pursuing criminal charges against adults who possess or consume the mushrooms.

The recent change not only makes Denver the most psychedelic-friendly city in the United States, but it also represents a major shift in cultural, political, and even medicinal views on mind-altering plants and other natural products. Westerners have found themselves amidst a revived psychedelic therapies renaissance, a renaissance supported by a new wave of scientific research.

A New Psychedelic Renaissance (Yet Again)

This unique time period in Western culture has recently been dubbed the second psychedelic renaissance. All jokes comparing modern-day millennials and free-loving hippies aside, the “second psychedelic renaissance” is, in reality, far from the second. Back in the 1960s and 70s, psychedelics were first introduced to a consumer-focused capitalist culture. Yet, the use of mind-altering plants and periods of intense social drug consumption have dotted history books for generations.

Take, for example, the mid-1800s when European elites had their first taste of hashish. The habit was originally picked up by French soldiers in Egypt, who brought the compressed cannabis resin home with them after the French invasions led by Napoleon Bonaparte. The almost hallucinogenic experiences the hashish provided lead to a slight cultural obsession with hallucinogens among those who could afford the substances, and novelists like the great popularized the hallucinogenic experience through their writings.

As early as 1729, Chinese Emperor Yung Chen issued the first rulings criminalizing the recreational use of opium. While opium is not a hallucinogen, a growing culture of recreational drug use and addiction originally propagated by Portuguese imports of the plant into China inspired Chinese leadership to continue to crack down on opium trade over the next three centuries. It is important to mention, however, that unlike psychedelic drugs, narcotics such as opium come with a high risk of addiction.

These are simply examples from the last three hundred years. And yet, if archeological evidence is any indication, human civilizations across the globe have always had some sort of relationship with psychoactive substances — just recently, archeological researchers in Bolivia found evidence of a 1,000-year-old pouch that contained traces of five different psychoactive plants.

The tradition of medical cannabis consumption in China is thought to date as far back as 2,737 BC when mystical Emporer Shen-Neng is believed to have introduced cannabis and many other plants into medical practice. Shen-Neng is believed to be the father of traditional Chinese medicine, although the medicinal uses of cannabis in China were not recorded until the first or second century A.D.

More recently, however, this old tradition has been reintroduced to Western scientific practice. After medical researchers took a brief hiatus from psychedelic research during the late 70s, through the early 90s, psychiatrists and other medical professionals are once again exploring the opportunities of these unusual and transformative therapies.

For the city of Denver, greater tolerance for psilocybin may provide the first of many long steps toward decreasing barriers for researchers and other psychedelic proponents who hope to develop the medical and spiritual legitimacy of the psychoactive experience.

The Vast Potential of Psychedelic Therapies

The most profound implications of psychedelic medicine lie in the arena of mental health. In 2016, the first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans provided glimpses into the brain on LSD. Colloquially known as “acid”, LSD is considered a classical psychedelic capable of radically altering cognition and cultivating feelings of harmony and oneness with the universe.

When put under the MRI machine, the brains of those on LSD did something magnificent — they lit up, nearly all the way up. Normally, when the human brain processes visual imagery, very specific regions of the brain activate. These regions are the visual cortex and the visual association areas that normally process information taken in by the eyes.

After an injection of LSD, however, brain scans revealed that networks across the entire organ were activated, linking portions of the brain that do not typically fire together. The psychoactive truly inspired a whole-brain experience. According to the leading scientists on the experiment, those that were given LSD were “seeing with their eyes shut.”

Brain scans of the effects of psilocybin extracted from mushrooms have made similar findings. In 2014, research published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface used functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to map the effects of the psychoactive substance on communication pathways between various processing networks in the brain.

Similar to the LSD study, the brains of patients given psilocybin were extra-active. The psychotropic compound caused a marked increase in connections between various networks, transforming normal pathways into a super-highway system with dense web-like construction.

Psychedelics, it would seem, encourage a unique explosion of brain activity that links up previously remote pockets of the mind. This mind-melting may have long-lasting positive effects to boot—research suggests that the “mystical-type” experiences inspired by psilocybin provided some of the most meaningful moments of spiritual significance in the lives of study participants.

Depression

Some of the most groundbreaking research in psychedelic therapies are occurring in the arena of depression. A handful of trials have examined the potential of psychotropic therapies in depression in patients with life-threatening illnesses, yet hallucinogenic therapies may be useful in treatment-resistant depression as well.

In 2017, for example, researchers from Imperial College London found that psilocybin seemed to press the brain “reset” button in patients with clinical depression. The study found that after taking the psychedelic, activation of brain regions responsible for fear and anxiety became less active. Further, the brain’s “default mode”, so to speak, became more stable after treatment.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Back in 2006, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that psilocybin was effective in reducing the acute symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The study, however, only included nine total participants. More recently, however, a clinical trial of psilocybin for OCD is underway at Yale University and the Heffter Research Institute. The trial contains 30 active participants, although the final results will not be published until 2022.

Addiction

Research from 2014 and 2015 tested the effects of psilocybin therapies in patients suffering from tobacco and alcohol addiction. The studies, which were conducted as proof-of-concept trials, found that treatment with the psychoactive compound decreased cravings for alcohol and nicotine for several months after administration. Alcohol cravings were reduced for up to 36 weeks after a psilocybin treatment. Tobacco cravings were also significantly diminished after six months of treatment.

End-of-Life Psychological Distress and Anxiety

Several human studies on psilocybin have been conducted in patients with depression and anxiety associated with life-threatening cancer diagnoses. In one 2016 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, psilocybin inspired positive changes in mood, depression, and anxiety levels in cancer patients six months after treatment with the psychoactive. An improved mood, however, wasn’t the only benefit reported by the patients. 80 percent of study participants also reported improvements in quality of life, spiritual satisfaction, and improved life meaning.

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