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.
Cannabis Legalization IS a Civil Rights Issue
Social equity is important to help people of color move on from the racist inquisition of cannabis prohibition. It’s a Civil Rights issue.
Americans have the right to political and social freedom and equality, as guaranteed by the Constitution. But reflecting on how this country was founded, there is no doubt the reason the U.S. is a superpower today is because the colonists and subsequent immigrants who became the industrialists had free labor through ownership of slaves to build their homesteads, ranches, companies and corporations.
The country would never have the infrastructure it does in terms of roads, buildings and power supplies if it was not for slave labor of people of color. This incomprehensible display of racism has attributed to the empires of American families with names like Rockefeller, Forbes, Vanderbilt and Griswold, to name only a few. The freedom of slaves and later the civil rights movement were pivotal moments of liberty for American people of color, who were not given the same rights to political and social freedom and equality that the Constitution guaranteed.
The legalization of cannabis can also create a huge shift in the Civil Rights of Americans.
Cannabis, Civil Rights and Reefer Madness
After the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws enacted racial segregation and the legal principle “separate but equal.” This carried into schooling, transportation and public facilities. Not until 1954, when the landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education was handed down, did segregation become unconstitutional. Though it took years to implement the decisions, the Supreme Court continued to hand down rulings against the Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were the last laws to help overturn the institutional discrimination.
However, during this period, in 1942, the Japanese Internment took place and people were suspected of committing crimes against the country during WWII solely because of their Japanese ancestry. The abusive move by the American government to substitute race and national origin for evidence is today recognized as shameful and a horrific event in our country’s history. The admission a sign that times are changing.
While laws and policy remove these intolerable acts of American racism on paper, the psychology and education for reform within people is taking longer to change. Decades after the Civil Rights Act was passed, many are still being targeted for the color of their skin, often being stopped at airports, pulled over in traffic and experiencing Constitutional violations of the 4th Amendment, for search and seizure. Official denials and insufficient proof have upheld these behaviors.
Again, in a country not above using skin color as evidence, the prohibition of cannabis in the mid-1930s started a wave of incarceration for people of color who use, grow, or sell marijuana. Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, made it his mission to seek out jazz musicians who used ‘marihuana.’ His internal memos berated jazz, reading, “It sounded like the jungles in the dead of night.” A different memo cautioned, “Unbelievably ancient indecent rites of the East Indies are resurrected.” And that the lives of jazz players “reek of filth.” He hoped to round up all-black jazz musicians and famously went after singer Billy Holiday for her heroin use — while helping white actress Judy Garland with her “troubled addiction” to heroin and wouldn’t dare arrest her.
“Prohibition was always used to eliminate people from this society and make it harder for them. It was part of the greater effort to continue what our country was unfortunately built on, slavery,” shared Allison Margolin, a Los Angeles-based criminal defense and cannabis attorney who has been heavily involved with California cannabis licensing and criminal drug cases.
Systemic racism leftover from the founders of this country gave way to modern racial profiling by law enforcement and the judiciary courts. The drug war greenlit in the 1980s increased the Jim Crow hysteria for cannabis tenfold, as rogue policy led to training DEA agents to look for people of color to pull over, especially if they’re black and driving expensive cars.
Cannabis was villainized by ‘reefer madness’ and in its own Jim Crow nightmare — no matter the American right to control our body and mind, covered in the opening words of the Declaration of Independence, which guarantees “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Freedom of thought is also guaranteed by the first amendment. The prohibition of cannabis was unconstitutional from the get-go.
But, evolution pushes at humanity and while today humans are under attack by their own species, many people are choosing a higher consciousness over slavery. Prohibition can’t be justified on moral or legal ground. The American Medical Association and the Federal Drug Administration have denied the truth about drugs when they come in conflict with government policies and corporate agendas, but thanks to democracy, cannabis is being freed from illegality and stigma, one state at a time. In a groundbreaking national effort, on November 19th, 2019, The House Judiciary Committee voted 24-10 to advance the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, sponsored by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). If passed by Congress, the U.S. is looking at ending federal cannabis prohibition completely.
The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, authorize the provision of resources, funded by an excise tax on marijuana products, to address the needs of communities that have been most seriously impacted by the war on drugs and provide for the expungement of federal marijuana convictions and arrests.
First Nations people, the Native Americans who lived in North America before the Europeans invaded, have begun to open dispensaries and cultivation businesses on their reservations. With sovereign immunity from the U.S., the MORE Act will only change things slightly. Josh Grant, IIPAY Tribe member and Chairman of the Santa Ysabel Tribal Development Corporation, explained, “Let’s say the Fed pass the MORE Act and they put regulations in place, now do we want to give up our sovereign immunity and start operating on federal regulations? Do we want to waive our sovereign immunity and start functioning on state regulation? Probably not. Do we want to make our own regulations that fold these other ones in? Yes, we do.”
Not All Social Equity is Created Equal
Racial profiling is responsible for putting many people of color behind bars for cannabis. Expungement may be a huge win for America but what about reparations? While 40 acres and a mule was a Civil War promise never realized, Native Americans have long suffered in displacement and Mexicans completely shunned in the face of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, cannabis legalization in many states has promised to develop and implement policies that seek to center equity in cannabis policy reform.
Grant shares how deep these reforms are needed for First Nations people.
“What about tribal sovereignty and our ability and our inherent right to provide for our people by any means necessary? When we have elders without power and their houses are falling apart, when we have children without housing, without heat, without running water, when we have third-world conditions on our reservation, shouldn’t we be allowed under our tribal sovereignty to provide an economic plan to try to help these people with the proper dispersal of profit or income to cover the tribe? There’s a major civil right.
“What they’re violating is our tribal sovereignty by restricting us from having a free market to develop our resources to provide for our people. That’s first and foremost here. We’re talking first nations here; we’re talking first people. We’ve been pushed into a corner of worthless land, while the bulk of our territory has been taken and government entities are collecting taxes on that land without remitting a portion of those taxes back to the original people.”
Social equity programs hope to repair the damage done by the war on drugs and assist equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry to decrease disparities in low-income and marginalized communities.
Margolin explained the importance of social equity within the legalization framework, “I think that it’s one of the first times that any of the governmental bodies in the United States has chosen attempt at reparations in any kind of way shape or form. I think there’s obviously a lot that could be done to try to increase the power of social equity applicants. Most of those have to do with access to banking, not having to rely upon individuals or potential conglomerates who might make deals that aren’t like the best, but its better than nothing. It’s definitely a good beginning.”
But is social equity working? While all legal states do not have the same social equity programs, at the local level, cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are trying to set up stronger programs to combat the barriers to enter the cannabis business and offer employment and business ownership opportunities.
Allison Margolin commented on the effectiveness of Los Angeles Social Equity Program,
“There’s social equity issues that will arrive, like we had this whole thing with the electronic first come, first serve, that became a situation and had levels of unfairness. But I think that if we fairly increase the number of dispensaries allowed, there’s no cap and we relax in the sensitive use requirements and if the state has certain requirements for the social equity on the local level that’d be great. Also, if the state-mandated there wouldn’t be a dry county, we could fix this huge disparity between the philosophy of before — the philosophy that’s supposed to be underpinning all of this and going on in these local governments, which is like reefer madness.
“Without the local governments being on board right now we don’t have too much access and that affects the whole market. We need to have more retail. We need to have more state-mandated social equity ownership requirements. But even with those things, yes, people can make money but there are a lot of control issues and the ability to control the market. Otherwise social equity can have benefits.”
States like Illinois and Massachusetts made social equity an integral part of their cannabis legalization. In states that didn’t, like Oregon, the city of Portland stepped up and granted eligibility for reduced license fees to businesses whose owners or staff had previous marijuana convictions; and in 2016, they enacted a city marijuana sales tax to generate funds for economic and education programs in communities where drug laws were disproportionately enforced.
Finding a happy medium for reparations can make sure who is supposed to benefit does, but there are many ways to create categories that were maybe not defined outright. For example, in Los Angeles, there is a three-tier social equity program with many different qualifications and benefits. A workforce requirement has a good faith effort to employ 50% of the weekly hourly workforce from the residents living within a three-mile radius of the cannabis business premises, with 20% social equity workers and 10% transitional workers. There are ways to make opportunities for everyone.
The Importance of Social Equity
Just as vital to understanding that legalization is a civil rights issue, is to be aware of the campaign of disinformation by the government. America is a nation with so many elephants in the room. It’s a zoo. Conscious evolution aside, changes can be made through policy and social equity is a good start.
“Reparations need to happen in the country in order for the United States to survive. Basically, this can be a good beginning to how we start it,” Margolin said. The people who have gone to prison for cannabis had to hire attorneys, had to be bailed out and they lost their jobs. “There should be a way for those people to benefit first economically. In addition to all these laws, the financing needs to be opened up, so passing state and federal banking is part of the effort because then you can have government-mandated funds and specialty programs. But now, you’re basically on your own unless you’re part of a bigger conglomerate, which might be like a big management company or otherwise you’re just in not of good positioning power,” she added.
Social equity is important to help people of color move on from the racist inquisition of cannabis prohibition. Margolin expressed that her grandparents were Holocaust survivors and received reparations from the Germans during her entire life. “They weren’t bitter towards Germans. They had no issues with Germans. Actually they’re both from Poland and they never went back there because they said there was so much anti-Semitism, but they went to Germany.”
The emotional and psychological trauma of racism is a scar this entire nation will carry until it can become completely transparent and make amends. Cannabis legalization is a gigantic step towards equality for all.
Margolin adds, “Basically the drug war and the war with cannabis has always been about taking things that are basic human needs and basic human impulses, which are the right to alter our consciousness on a level that’s pretty nuanced and not bad for you and punishing people for something most everyone does or that many people do.”
Maximize Your Dry January Enjoyment With Daytrip CBD Beverages
Daytrip has developed a range of natural, premium CBD beverages that delight the senses and open the mind to new possibilities.
Do you feel like you overindulged over the holiday season? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. After all the festivities of the Christmas and New Year’s period, some people decide to commit to a month of sobriety, otherwise known as ‘Dry January.’
Researchers at the University of Sussex have been studying Dry January since 2014. They have discovered that participants can expect to have better health – and a healthier bank balance.
But fear not! Dry January doesn’t mean forgoing all things deliciously effervescent. In fact, why not use this opportunity to embark on a new facet of your wellness journey by swapping out sugary sodas with sugar-free CBD beverages.
Daytrip craft natural, premium 100% water-soluble CBD drinks that absorb quickly into the body to maximize the cannabinoid’s bioavailability. CBD is an oil-based product, so when the technology doesn’t create a fully water-soluble CBD, the end product can’t effectively absorb into the body.
For this reason, Daytrip is different from other CBD drink options. The company has developed proprietary Foliole Nexus Technology, leveraging high-frequency energy to minimize the hemp-derived CBD’s particle size, enabling the cannabinoid to provide a near-instant effect and deliver consistent results.
Then, they infuse CBD into sparkling water and a botanical terpene profile to create four delicious flavors — cherry, coconut pineapple, lemon lime and tangerine — that can be used to create CBD cocktails that promote a happy effervescent feeling.
- 3/4 cup lemon lime Daytrip CBD sparkling water
- Ginger – muddled
- ¼ cup peach nectar
- 1 lemon wedge
Combine all ingredients in a glass and garnish with lemon and a ginger shaving.
The Bubbly Brunch
- 1/2 cup Tangerine Daytrip CBD Sparkling Water
- 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 TBSP elderflower syrup
- 1 lime wedge squeezed into glass
Combine all ingredients in a glass.
- 2 oz Cherry Daytrip CBD Sparkling Water
- 5 oz tequila
- 2 oz pineapple juice
- 1 oz pomegranate juice
Combine all ingredients in a glass and garnish with cherries and orange slices.
- ½ can Coconut Pineapple Daytrip CBD Sparkling Water
- 1 shot clear rum
- 2 slices of fresh pineapple Ice
Muddle one slice of pineapple and pour in Daytrip Coconut Pineapple, rum and ice. Garnish with the second pineapple slice
Firmly rooted in California culture, Daytrip embraces all that the Golden State represents; getting away from the grind and sharing good vibes.
Whether you’re at the beach, on the slopes, or simply in your own back yard, Daytrip wants to help you maximize your enjoyment.
The K.Haring Collection Is the Embodiment of Functional Art
The new K.Haring Collection is the epitome of his artistic style — vibrant yet sophisticated, stylish yet accessible and extremely enjoyable.
Keith Haring is undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of the 1980s. His graffiti-inspired artwork depicted simplified people, barking dogs and flying saucers worked into tightly arranged patterns. He drew inspiration from popular culture that surrounded him in New York City and beyond, his work could be found in all its bright, graphic glory in the streets, in clubs and the subway.
So it makes perfect sense then that the new K.Haring Collection is the epitome of his artistic style — vibrant yet sophisticated, stylish yet accessible and extremely enjoyable.
“The art world has long had an intertwined relationship with cannabis and has in many ways been instrumental in the advancement of the industry,” said Sasha Kadey, Chief Marketing Officer of Greenlane and Creative Director for the K.Haring Collection.
“The K.Haring Collection will help our mission to destigmatize and elevate the cannabis experience.”
The ten-piece collection is being released through Greenlane Holdings Inc and includes some of Haring’s most recognizable work in four colorways. It includes all of the essentials for an elevated smoking experience: bubblers, rigs, water pipes, tasters, spoon pipes, glass trays, and catchalls. A collaboration with BiC completes the collection with eight distinct lighters in bold hues that feature a range of the artist’s dynamic designs.
Peep the full collection below.
The K.Haring Collection is available now from haringglass.com.
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