Dispatches From the Field

History of Nixon's War on Weed & Prison Industrial Complex:

War Without End After a couple dozen centuries of being the greatest plant on Earth, how did marijuana suddenly become Public Enemy #1?

Prisoners -- America's New Cash Crop Lobbyists for the corporate, for-profit prison industry have spent millions of dollars per year writing laws and implementing strategies to put people in prison for as long as possible. And nothing grows the prison population better than the War on Drugs...

Women in Prison -- An American Growth Industry  Almost half of all incarcerated women were unemployed in the month before their arrest. Patricia Spottedcrow, a 24-year-old Cheyenne mother of four in rural Kingfisher County, Oklahoma, was not the first to look for a way to make some “easy money” when things got tight.

Court Support Essays:

Victory at Jury Trial for LA's Dopest Attorney June 2011 success of Allison Margolin & Raza Lawrence in affirmative medical defense for CA patient transporting medical marijuana.

Court Support Now The easiest and most powerful thing you can do as an activist is show up in court.

Trial of Long Beach Medical Marijuana Collective Operators Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron:

The Mother Teresas Refused to Cop a Plea  Describes the 2009 raid on the medical marijuana dispensary and collective operators.

Bend Over and Assume the Position  Court reporting on the preliminary hearing and pre-trial hearings held in 2011.

Cops Break Law on Taxpayer Dime  Detailed court reporting from inside the December 2012 trial of Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron.

Sweeping Reform or Whack-A-Mole? by Cynthia Johnston

posted Mar 25, 2015, 8:00 PM by The Editor   [ updated Mar 25, 2015, 10:41 PM ]

Obama administration to allow recreational 
marijuana laws to stand. 
~ Los Angeles Times, August 29, 2013

If success were measured by who we piss off, then we’re definitely on the right track with Attorney General Eric Holder’s staff memo telling the Justice Department not to stomp on Colorado and Washington for legalizing marijuana. Yes, indeed. A whole bunch of cops were royally pissed off.

And they all signed an open letter to the AG voicing their displeasure. “Law enforcement becomes infinitely harder for our front-line men and women given the Department’s position,” they kvetched.

The signature list reads like a flashback to a Las Vegas convention infamously attended by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson in 1971. It includes the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers Associations’ Coalition, the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association and the Police Executive Research Forum. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson describes the law enforcement gathering as “a crowd that was convened for the stated purpose of putting people like us in jail.” The same goes for the crowd who complained to the AG about allowing marijuana legalization to go forward in Colorado and Washington.

Cops Left Out of the Loop

It seems the Obama administration’s announcement came as an even bigger surprise to law enforcement than it did to some cannabis activists. “I must admit,” kvelled Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, “I was expecting a yellow light from the White House. But this light looks a lot more green-ish than I had hoped.”

Given scant warning the announcement was coming, police groups took the snub personally. “It is unacceptable that the Department of Justice did not consult our organizations – whose members will be directly impacted – for meaningful input ahead of this important decision,” they wrote. “Our organizations were given notice just thirty minutes before the official announcement was made public and were not given the adequate forum ahead of time to express our concerns with the Department’s conclusion on this matter.”

This provides a certain bitter satisfaction, I must admit. But if you measure success by who gets left in the dust behind the administration’s so-called sweeping reforms, then there’s not much to celebrate.

The Horror

Richard Flor, Montana’s first registered medical marijuana caregiver, died in federal prison on August 30, 2012.

A Vietnam veteran and medical marijuana patient, Richard Flor (68), who was suffering from diabetes, a heart condition, hepatitis C, osteoporosis, broken bones and colon cancer, died in federal custody at a for-profit state prison in Las Vegas, Nevada. He’d been warehoused in private prisons for six months awaiting transfer to a federal medical facility. He never made it.

His daughter, Kristin Flor, is dedicated to exposing her family’s treatment by the justice system and to advocate for other “plant prisoners” currently in federal custody for providing, in compliance with state laws, a plant that heals. 

She describes her dad calling from prison, begging for help. He had a broken collar bone, a broken shoulder bone – eight broken bones in all. Her calls to the Prison Bureau and the Federal Marshall’s office went unanswered. “He lay there and cried out for help,” she said, her voice cracking. He had undiagnosed colon cancer and suffered intense stomach pain. “The nurses and doctors accused him of faking it. They just let him lay there with no health care at all.” After four months he was transferred to another private prison in Las Vegas. Kristin heard from her dad a couple more times and then she never heard from him again. It turns out he’d had two heart attacks and flat-lined twice in a prison hospital. He’d suffered for eighteen hours before she was called and told he’d been placed on life support. When she arrived in Las Vegas, they told her he wasn’t going to make it. 

“I had to decide to take my dad off life support.” Watched by two guards who never left the room, she said goodbye to her father. “I kissed him until his body turned cold. I stayed there with him a few more moments and when they started taking the covers off of him, I realized he was still shackled to the bed.”

He had been shackled every day while in custody. “What my dad hated about the shackles is he had all these broken bones!” Sometimes denied a wheelchair or a walker, he was forced to walk on broken bones. He eventually lost the ability to walk altogether, but they still kept him shackled.

Meanwhile, Flor’s wife Sherry and son Justin were both given federal prison sentences for their involvement in the family’s state-compliant medical marijuana collective. Sherry was the book-keeper. Justin operated the dispensary and took care of the backyard garden. Kristin had to tell her mother by phone that she had taken her father off life support. Sherry’s request for compassionate release to bury her husband was denied. “Prison is no place to grieve,” she wrote.

“In the eyes of his friends and colleagues,” said former partner Tom Daubert, Richard Flor was “functionally murdered by the federal government’s draconian enforcement of prohibition.”

Try not to get tunnel vision looking for the problem. 
Keep working on the solution.
~ Journalist Mickey Martin, August 31, 2013 

Rather than sink into negativity, I will keep the words of my distinguished colleague, Mr. Martin, in mind. After all, the Obama Administration is allowing recreational marijuana. That shoots holes right through the DEA’s laughable opinion that marijuana has no medical value. So what? The president has opened the floodgates of policy reform for recreational marijuana, virtually inviting other states to do the same.

There’s certainly some satisfaction in that. But real satisfaction will only come when our marijuana POWs are set free and law enforcement stops waging war on people they are sworn to protect and serve. So, in spite of the euphoria in some circles about the latest announcement, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s still a “million pound shithammer,” to use a phrase only Hunter Thompson could have come up with, hanging over our heads.

Xtreme Whack-A-Mole

“We cannot expect people to have respect for law and order until we 
teach respect to those we have entrusted to enforce those laws.”
~ Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

In an article entitled Big Police Needs to Evolve on Weed, Diane Wattles Goldstein, of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) says it’s not the medical marijuana industry in California that makes it harder for line cops to do their job, but rather “the intransigence of our law enforcement leaders.”

Indeed, U S attorneys lost no time in dismissing the new guidelines. In an East Bay Express story entitled, “U S Attorney Melinda Haag to Continue Crackdown Despite White House Directive,” the U S Attorney’s office for the Northern District of California stated “…for the most part it appears that the cases that have been brought in this district are already in compliance with the guidelines. Therefore, we do not expect a significant change.”

Los Angeles attorney Allison Margolin suggested the AG simply start having his staff report to him weekly so he can keep a tighter rein on their activities. But until something like that happens, the raids will continue and more patients will go to prison.

Battle Lines Being Drawn

Opponents of legalization held their “first annual” National Marijuana Policy and Strategy Conference on September 23-24, 2013 in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Hosted by Paul Chabot of the Coalition for a Drug Free California and Calvina Fay of the Drug Free America Foundation, among others, it featured speakers from Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (CALMca.org), the Marijuana Eradication Task Force, DARE, Nip It In The Bud USA, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney who organized the Crime/Drug Enforcement Task Force, and the lead expert on marijuana dispensary litigation in the case of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center. That’s the landmark ruling by the California Supreme Court allowing cities to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

The host and speaker list was long and represented, once again, a crowd convened for the stated purpose of putting people like us in jail.

Fool Me Twice…

I’m not here to burst any bubbles – we have gained tremendous ground. But before we declare victory, let’s remember that we’ve been here before.

The first time our esteemed AG made a BFD out of a memo to his prosecutors was October 19, 2009, when Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden informed United States Attorneys that they had better things to do with taxpayer dollars than persecute medical marijuana patients and providers. They called it the Ogden Memo and it was a big hit. A whole bunch of us jumped up and down, waving our new emancipation proclamation in the air like Mardi Gras hankies. Free at last, free at last....

“…prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.”

But here’s the kicker. There’s another line in the Ogden Memo we cannabis advocates tend to screen out, to wit: “The prosecution of significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, and the disruption of illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks continues to be a core priority in the Department’s efforts against narcotics and dangerous drugs, and the Department’s investigative and prosecutorial resources should be directed towards these objectives.”

That is how, as of August, 2013, the DEA had justified sending storm-troopers to raid 270 state-compliant medical marijuana establishments since Obama took office, squandering three hundred million taxpayer dollars in the process. It’s the reason an American citizen was busted for pot every 48 seconds in 2012. It’s how America got into the monstrous for-profit prison business.
While medical marijuana advocates cling to the part about people with serious illnesses and their caregivers, law enforcement hangs it’s hat on the other part. Because they get to decide what’s “illegal,” that incantation has magically transformed gardeners and caregivers into drug trafficking organizations, or “DTOs.” That is just one way, in the words of former federal prosecutor Ken White, “people convicted of drug crimes make up nearly half the federal prison population.”

And it’s why we lock up people like the world’s oldest living hemophiliac, Dale C. Schafer (61) – a legitimate, card-carrying California medical marijuana patient. Schafer is also an attorney, former candidate for District Attorney of El Dorado County, and husband of fellow incarcerated medical marijuana patient, cancer survivor Dr. Mollie Fry. He could have been spared years of unremitting hell. But no.

Cruel, As Usual

When we first checked in, Dale Schafer was five excruciating months into a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. He was suffering “pain like a toothache” from multiple bleeds into his weight bearing joints. He also suffered from five herniated disks, failed back surgery, degenerative joint disease, spinal stenosis and severe arthritis in virtually every joint. From the day he entered the system at Sacramento County jail on May 2nd, 2011, Schafer had been moved from one prison to another while being systematically denied medication for his constant pain, which on most days reached level ten on a scale of ten.

Schafer had been on a carefully monitored pain management program with his hematologist until he and his wife, cancer survivor Dr. Mollie Fry, began serving federal prison sentences for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana. The lawyer and the doctor turned themselves in on May 2nd, 2011, to serve federal prison sentences for providing patients with medical marijuana according to California’s Compassionate Use Act. They ran a medical marijuana collective in full compliance with state law and with the full knowledge of local law enforcement officials. They also had a backyard marijuana garden, where they grew no more than forty-four plants a year – well under the legal limit of ninety-nine plants.

Prisoners of War

Had they been allowed an affirmative (medical marijuana) defense in court, the jury would have known all of that, and may have ruled differently. But theirs was a federal case where state medical marijuana law does not apply. When a defendant is denied the right to tell the whole truth by the court itself, how can justice even begin to be served? This is one problem desperately in search of a solution – whether it takes an act of Congress or an act of God. At this point, smart money is on God.

When people are raided for doing something they were encouraged to do by the government that raids them, that’s classic whack-a-mole. Too many people found out the hard way that no matter what you do to comply with the law – no matter how many lawyers you hire, no matter how righteous you are – you’re still wrong. If they want you, they will get you.

On May 27th, 2011, Schafer’s daughter Heather and son Jeff, struggling to manage the chaos of their disrupted home life (all five kids from Mollie and Dale’s blended family, two grandchildren and one on the way, were living together in their parents’ home) told us their dad was in San Bernardino County jail, notorious for a twelve-hour riot in 2009 in which over 300 inmates were injured. They emphasized that he was in the general population with no prescription pain medication.

As I was reading about Dale Schafer on August 17, 2013, I received a “Solidarity Alert! .… Aaron Sandusky in a bad way.... Big Spring FCI is in a dangerous state and the media is not covering it at all. He is injured and the place is in lock down....”

Again, Eric Holder’s memos have done nothing to help current non-violent drug “offenders,” also known as medical marijuana dispensary owners like Aaron Sandusky, who is serving a mandatory minimum sentence in a federal prison in Texas – with a heart condition and an undisclosed injury. But I digress.

After about two weeks in Sacramento County jail, according to a blog he later posted, Schafer was transferred to San Bernardino County Central Detention Center. He’d endured a bus trip that took over twelve hours, on hard plastic seats, with no pain medication. Once at San Bernardino, he received no pain medication for another four days. By then he was suffering from withdrawal as well as his untreated pain, and still had not seen a doctor.

At this point he was in the medical ward, although still in the general population, waiting to see an outside pain management specialist to determine his “true need for narcotics.” He was also waiting for transfer to a federal prison facility. Given his experience so far, he didn’t bother to give out the San Bernardino County address, knowing he could be transferred any day, at any time.

On Friday, July 1st, 2011, Shafer sent a message from “inside the Prison Industrial Complex” at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, saying he was in his fourth facility in less than two months. He wrote that after about three weeks at San Bernardino County he was bused to Pahrump, Nevada. “As usual,” there was no pain medication for him when he arrived. A day later he saw a doctor and found out they were a non-narcotic facility. “I spent four days there in solitary withdrawing from the Norco.”

After four days he was awakened at 2:00 AM and told he was being flown to Hawaii. He was given muscle relaxers on the flight from Las Vegas, but no pain meds. “We were not allowed to even stand up for the almost six-hour flight. Since arriving in Honolulu, it has been a nightmare.”

It took another four days before he was given Tylenol with Codeine. His family sent medical records and he complained in writing several times, but the prison doctor refused to prescribe anything stronger, or even talk to him – so he started a grievance process.

“The whole system is barbaric,” he wrote. “If the nurse announces pill time and you don't hear it, they leave without giving you your meds. There are several diabetics who have missed their insulin because you can't hear the pill call person.” When Schafer started whistling to alert the other inmates, the guards made him stop.

Diesel Therapy

Two and a half months later, on Thursday, September 15th, Heather posted on Facebook:

“Have not heard from mom or dad in days.” Her sister Carol had spoken to their father on Saturday, she wrote. “He was at Pahrump, at the Western Regional Distribution Facility and had not been given anything for pain since Wednesday of the previous week. My poor daddy!”

As of September 20th, 2011, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, Dale C. Schafer, Register #15839-097 was “In Transit.”

Upon hearing of Schafer’s latest address change, former medical marijuana POW Tom Kikuchi remarked that he was being subjected to “diesel therapy." A form of punishment, prisoners subjected to diesel therapy are shipped on buses over a matter of days or weeks, during which time they have no address at which to receive mail, no personal property, and no access to the commissary system for paper, stamps, vitamins, toiletries or staple foods such as nuts and canned meat. They also can’t order their prescription meds. Because the bus engine is never shut off, the inmates inhale diesel fumes the whole time they’re on board.

As a prisoner of the drug war who served four years in federal prison for cultivating medical marijuana, Tom Kikuchi is familiar with the middle-of-the-night wake-ups to travel to yet another unknown facility. For security reasons, prisoners get no warning when the next leg of travel will occur. With no idea how long he would be shackled without access to a bathroom, he would never ingest more than a few sips of water a day. He explained that local jails get paid a daily rate to house federal prisoners in transit. For example, in 2008 the “cost per offender per day” in Oklahoma was $58.02. The projected cost for 2010 was $62.34; another two bucks a head in 2011, and so on. “Communities build oversized prison facilities and then get on the government dole to pay for them,” said Kikuchi. Prisoners are shipped on “circuitous routes” around the country to keep those facilities funded.

On September 18th, Heather blogged that she finally got to talk to her dad. He had been "In Transit" for ten days. “We don't know exactly where he is but he is on a unit with the other 120 guys that are all supposed to go, with him, to Taft, [California]. None of them have any idea when they will be leaving their current location. He has not been given any of his meds for the ten days he's been in transit. So he can't eat or sleep and he is totally miserable.”

The Reaper Strikes Behind Bars

But it was Tom Kikuchi who witnessed the ultimate in prisoner abuse: He saw an inmate die right in front of him for lack of medical care.

As he wrote in the essay “Medical Malfeasance,” he had just settled down in his bunk at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Sheridan, Oregon with a clip-on reading light and a book when he heard “a strange noise” coming from the cubicle next to his. “It was a sudden gurgling, burping sound like a stuck drainpipe releasing a big bubble of air.”

His cube mates knew the “new guy” had a serious heart condition and got up to check on him. No response. They began shouting for help. The lights went on and “all 120 of us got up to witness a grim sight.” The guards arrived quickly and the stricken inmate was laid out in the center aisle. “The image I will take with me forever was the deathly blue-gray pallor and the look of asphyxiated agony on the body’s face.”

Once the body was rolled away, the other inmates heard about the dead man’s heart condition (remember Aaron Sandusky? In a federal prison in Texas, injured, with a heart condition — to this day?) and about his many trips to the prison infirmary with severe chest pains. He had repeatedly been given aspirin and told to come back. Assigned to the prison gardening crew, he had never been allowed to rest. For two months this went on, and then he was dead.

“The moral of the story is when in prison, never get sick and never get hurt,” wrote Tom Kikuchi, “because despite all the government’s propaganda, medical assistance in federal prison is incompetent at best and barbaric at its worst.”

Obviously one solution to these grotesque prison conditions, at least in the case of California where the governor was ordered by the United States Supreme Court to reduce the state prison population by some 10,000 people, would be to release non-violent drug offenders, particularly the sick and elderly. Instead of complying with the Supreme Court mandate, Governor Jerry Brown asked for a three year delay. Without a delay, he threatened to spend $315 million per year sending inmates to overcrowded county jails and private, for-profit prisons owned by the likes of Corrections Corp of America (which we exposed in a previous Dispatch.

“The definite trend in the rest of the nation is to go away from incarceration,” said Don Specter, director of Prison Law Office, the organization that sued over prison overcrowding. “Instead, California is going in the direction of another incarceration binge.”

Most disturbingly, Governor Brown has stated that the best health care some prisoners ever get is in prison – while patients, gardeners and caregivers suffer and sometimes even die there.

As of September 22, 2013, Dale C. Schafer, inmate #15839-097 has been transferred to a half-way house in Lompoc, California, with a projected release date of September 8, 2015. He never should have been imprisoned in the first place.

In an article entitled, Holder’s Promise: Drug Sentencing Will Change, Los Angeles attorney Allison Margolin says Attorney General Holder should be “making allowances for the early release of elderly non-violent federal prisoners, and encouraging states to come up with diversion programs that would steer people away from prison and re-entry programs that would help reintegrate those who have gone to prison.”

Besides the early release of non-violent drug offenders, and a mandate for federal judges to allow an affirmative defense in medical marijuana cases, certain biased judges need to be flushed off the bench altogether. In Aaron Sandusky’s case, judge Percy Anderson was so rabidly biased against medical marijuana, he accused Aaron’s court supporters of being degenerates as he handed Aaron a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in federal prison.

Aaron Sandusky, inmate #63038-112 is still sick and hurt somewhere in the Federal Correctional Institution in Big Spring, Texas, located midway between Dallas and El Paso. His release date is May 8, 2021. If he lives that long.

Again, he probably wouldn’t be there if a medical marijuana defense had been allowed in court. Or if the Attorney General’s new sentencing guidelines had been in place when he was charged. The least the AG could do is make them retroactive.

Under the AG’s new guidelines, announced on August 12, 2013 in a speech to the American Bar Association, "certain low-level non-violent drug offenders who have no ties to large scale organizations, gangs or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences," he said.

That sounds promising. However, under the new guidelines, although prosecutors may not use the weight of drugs seized in a raid to trigger mandatory minimum sentences, they are merely advised to exercise discretion in filing charges. In the end, the power is still in the hands of the prosecutors.

"Great and terrible power, exercised with some
lenience, is still great and terrible power."
~ Former federal prosecutor Ken White

So, what to do? Author Ken Kesey used to say, “Put your good where it will do the most.” First of all, let your state legislators know you want sensible medical marijuana regulations, because without them, under the new guidelines, all medical marijuana establishments could be deemed “illegal.” Ask your Congressional representatives to support specific pro-marijuana and hemp legislation. Sit in court with a medical marijuana defendant. Write a letter to a “plant prisoner.” But also, as we say in Hollywood, have fun with it.For instance, on Monday, September 23rd, 2013, a coalition of pro-marijuana activists organized a rally to End Reefer Madness from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m in Rancho Cucamonga, California – in the plaza outside the National Marijuana Policy & Strategy Conference taking place inside. All known pro-legalization conference attendees had been excluded (and their ticket money refunded) from attending what they called “a taxpayer funded narcotics officer conference to undermine Prop. 215 and the marijuana legalization political process.”

Upon learning that the cannabis crowd would honor the spirit of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson by “attending” the big anti-pot conference, the narcotics law enforcement groups released a decoy location change announcement to attempt to deter the sign-waving, slogan-shouting demonstrators. It didn’t work.


Finally, just for fun, and perhaps to inspire, we leave you with the inimitable words of the Good Doctor:

“We would be attending the conference under false pretenses and dealing, from the start, with a crowd that was convened for the stated purpose of putting people like us in jail. We were the Menace – not in disguise, but stone-obvious drug abusers, with a flagrantly cranked-up act that we intended to push all the way to the limit...not to prove any final, sociological point, and not even as a conscious mockery: It was mainly a matter of life-style, a sense of obligation and even duty. If the Pigs were gathering in Vegas for a top-level Drug Conference, we felt the drug culture should be represented.” 

~ Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

President Obama Insults the Intelligence of America’s Youth By Dictating Marijuana Legalization Should Be Their Bottom Priority

posted Mar 18, 2015, 12:00 AM by The Editor   [ updated Mar 24, 2015, 3:33 AM ]

Rather than listening to his young constituents, President Obama disregards their highest priorityending the failed pot prohibition policy of the United Statesand condescendingly substitutes his own narrow-minded vision for the future.

To prepare for his much anticipated interview with President Obama, VICE’s Shane Smith solicited questions online in advance from readers. When he interviewed the president last week, Smith saved the most popular subject for the end:  “For young people, I’m sorry, but if you legalized marijuana, it would be the biggest part of your legacy.”

Barack Obama, who admittedly smoked weed in his youth, had the audacity to declare, “First of all, it shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority.”

Interviewer Smith attempted to explain, “It was our most popular…”

“I understand, because sometimes, on White House petitions, we get the same,” said Obama.

President Obama has apparently decided that instead of listening to his young constituents who will inherit this county, he should dictate the order of their priorities, as follows:

 “Young people: I understand this is important to you, but as you be thinking about climate change, the economy and jobs, war and peace, maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.”

Incarcerated Americans
Perhaps the young people of America DO have their priorities straight. The War on Drugs has failed and wrought collateral damage on human rights. Moms, dads, brothers, and sisters all around the country are incarcerated due to the prohibition of the cannabis hemp plant. Our youth witness how entering the criminal justice system for a marijuana offense has a debilitating effect on a person’s job and career prospects. Students are also at risk of losing student loan eligibility if they get caught with marijuana.

The youth of today recognize the hypocrisy of calling the United States the “land of the free” while boasting highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. By privatizing prisons since the 1980’s, America allowed the for-profit prison industry to flourish, leading to state sanctioned mass incarceration (prisoner lockup quotas are actually written right into contracts with prison companies).

When it comes to America’s wrong-headed war on weed, as Jack Herer observed, the emperor wears no clothes! 
When it comes to America’s wrong-headed war on weed, as Jack Herer observed, the emperor wears no clothes! The youth of America know that cannabis is a medicinal plant that never should have been classified as a Schedule I drug having “no accepted medical use.” An entire generation of Americans has now seen online patient testimonials of cannabis curing cancer. Cannabis is used medicinally to alleviate neurological disorders, pain, muscle spasticity, and digestive symptoms including nausea and vomiting, among numerous other benefits to overall health and well-being.
United States is the World's Leading Jailer

Aware Americans are awaiting the moment when cannabis hemp is legalized so the beneficial properties of the plant can be studied even further. 

President Obama patronizingly suggested in his interview, “At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule marijuana.

Medical marijuana legislation has passed in 23 of 50 states—how many more are needed to indicate the will of the people towards ending the country’s failed pot prohibition policy? Are we to believe that the same Congress that is currently willing to destroy our county over partisan battles will ever unite to lead us to a common-sense drug policy?

Populist, democratic principles were on display when VICE magazine asked the public at large to submit questions for their upcoming interview with the commander-in-chief. President Obama, however, patronizingly issued a papal decree of ordered priorities in response.

A young scholar could write a term paper placing each of the president’s prescribed priorities in the context of pot prohibition. First, President Obama listed climate change, which is caused by our addiction to petrochemicals, growing exponentially in the last century while industrial use of hemp has been banned. Cannabis hemp is a renewable resource excellent as a fiber, fuel, paper, plastic, and more. Hemp has been a staple of economies around the world for thousands of years; ending its prohibition would allow us to live more in harmony with nature.
A young scholar could write a term paper placing each of the president’s prescribed priorities in the context of pot prohibition. 

Hemp Fuel Paper Housing Inspiration Textiles Food Oil
The second item in President Obama’s priority list was “economy and jobs.” Our economy is adversely affected by the multi-billion dollar yearly cost of incarcerating millions of  nonviolent marijuana offenders. By creating local economies based on private prisons, we are incentivizing the enslavement of our African-American, Latino, and economically disadvantaged populations. America has more people of color in prison than in collegeIt is time to end the prison-industrial complex and stop enriching private prison companies at taxpayer expense.

The next tier of the president’s agenda for youth priorities is the rather open-ended term “war and peace.” The War on Drugs has failed (drugs won) and the federal government should make peace with the people. Also, America should stop dictating the drug policy of other nations around the world, and while we’re discussing it, perhaps start fewer wars overall.

If Nature Is Illegal Freedom Does Not Exist #CCHI2016

President Obama’s idea that “maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana” is awfully convenient for a man who never would have been president had he been caught up in the criminal justice system for smoking with the “Choom Gang” in his own youth. Fortunately, today’s youth are much more enlightened. Those of us who are not incarcerated should act for the freedom of our brothers and sisters unjustly imprisoned for a plant.

Watch the VICE interview with President Obama. The marijuana legalization question starts around 14:20.

Published March 17, 2015 by United States V. Marijuana.

This article is mirrored on the L.A. Indymedia newswire at:

United We Stand Festival Ignites a Wave of Action Among Independent Journalists and Active Citizens

posted May 11, 2014, 11:18 PM by The Editor   [ updated Jun 5, 2014, 7:33 PM ]

The "United We Stand” festival kicked off on May 10th in downtown Los Angeles at the Belasco Theater with musical guests Immortal Technique, Wu-tang Clan, Rooftop Revolutionaries, A-Alikes, Sounds of Solidarity, Kellee Maize, and Chuck D of Public Enemy. Social activists on a #waveofaction at the festival included comedian Lee Camp, Green party political candidates Rosa Clemente and Jill Stein, March Against Monsanto founder Tami Canal, Emma Cape of Free Chelsea Manning, Diane Goldstein of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, authors Rosa Koire, Ellen Brown, and David Swanson, and dozens more.

LOS ANGELES -- Hosted by the Free & Equal Elections Foundation, the inaugural “United We Stand” festival kicked off on May 10th in downtown Los Angeles, showcasing music, journalism, and political visionaries on subjects including the war on drugs, drone warfare, foreign policy, Internet freedom, election reform, corporatism, central banking, and the oneness of the human beings of the world.

Originally planned for UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion as the launch of a 10-city university tour, the UWS festival location was changed just three days before the concert. Organizers effusively thanked the Belasco Theater for accommodating Saturday’s festival on less than 24 hours notice, after UCLA rescinded the offer for the scheduled venue.

Christina Tobin of Free and Equal Elections (Photo by M.C.)
United We Stand organizers noted, “The Woodstock location withdrew a few days before the event and had to be relocated to a farm (outside of Woodstock). Keep up your spirits, Free & Equal intends for this event to have similar historic implications towards the goal of world peace.” With the success of the last minute change, “this event sets up an even greater path for future festivals.”

Tickets for the event were sold via an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign and though Ticketmaster; however, after the venue was relocated, free admission was offered to all event attendees (current ticket holders received refunds). After last minute communications about the change of venue, attendees lined up outside the historic Belasco Theater on S. Hill St. for admission late Saturday afternoon.
Lee Camp at United We Stand (Photo by M.C.)

When comedian Lee Camp took the stage, he joked “United We Stand! Now on the sidewalk outside the theater for hours…” He added, “sorry about that. We just did that because we wanted you to stand. United.”

The spirited crowd responded with exuberant applause and cheers to Lee Camp’s joke about the logistics of the festival. He continued, “We’re here because we’re in the middle of some deep shit. We’re here because every time I turn on the TV, maybe the Mayan prediction that the world was going to end in the end of 2012, maybe it wasn’t a prediction. It was a recommendation.”

“Look around. There’s economies collapsing around the world. No one’s got a good job. There’s dogs in sweaters and kids on leashes!” observed Mr. Camp.

LEE CAMP performs at United We Stand, Los Angeles

“We are witnessing the liquidation of everything we’ve built over the last two hundred, maybe a thousand years. This unfettered capitalist domination of the mental sphere…is an extraction…of anything and everything that matters to the average human being.”

Lee Camp told the audience, “We’re putting our differences aside long enough to realize the two party duopoly is nothing but a sham. We agree on 90% of the structural issues in this country. Ask them what the differences are…in Wall St. or the military-industrial complex or the prison-industrial complex.”

On the subject of the American mass incarceration, Lee Camp accused, “We have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners! Is that a bad idea?”

Specific political policies mentioned by speakers included the Patriot Act, the indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, warrantless wiretapping by the NSA, the web of debt created by the Federal Reserve, and UN Agenda 21 “sustainable development” social engineering. Poems, songs, and speeches also mentioned imperialism, war on foreign soils and by drone, the military industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, and the corporate control of our modern government.

Immortal Technique plays UNITED WE STAND (Photo by M.C.)

After an inspiring talk by criminal defense attorney Freddy Sayegh on the subject of food justice, the crowd broke out into an impromptu cheer of “Fuck Monsanto” reminiscent of the battle cries at any American sporting event.

Musical acts included revolutionary rapper Immortal Technique, founding members of Wu-tang Clan Cappadonna, U-God, and Masta Killa, the political hard rock band Rooftop Revolutionaries, independent hip Florida hop artists A-Alikes, funk band Sounds of Solidarity, and female rapper Kellee Maize. Due to the all-star nature of the five-hour evening, even headlining acts were limited to 15 minute set times.

Immortal Technique opened his short set rapping his chilling song "Bin Laden," accusing the U.S government of masterminding terrorism. "Bush funded al-Qaeda, and now they blame the Muslim religion, even though bin Laden was a CIA tactician, t
hey gave him billions of dollars, and they funded his purpose, Fahrenheit 9/11, that's just scratchin' the surface." He morphed into “The Point of No Return,” indicting the perpetrators of genocide and imperialism throughout history.

Addressing the audience, Immortal Technique made a commentary on the power of words. “When I say autistic, I don’t mean retarded, but a genius alive in a world of darkness. But regardless, our world is heartless…. I’m out of shits I used to give, so trust in death, I see the lives I used to live, our future kids…under this tutelage. When I say hip hop, I don’t mean the music, I mean the culture, not the vultures!”

Independent citizen journalism was recurring topic of the evening, with panelists including Emmy-award winning CNN International whistleblower Amber Lyon, Abby Martin of RT, Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange.org, Mint Press News founder Mnar Muhawesh, Nick Bernabe of The Anti-Media, Brad Friedman of KPFK, and countless other authors and members of the press.

One citizen journalist in attendance observed that she was “really moved that I saw NO MAINSTREAM MEDIA at #UnitedWeStand. Meanwhile, alternative media, social influencers and live streamers came out in force. The people's media was given full access to concert speakers, artists, and organizers. There was so much solidarity and cooperation between media teams.”

The stated goal of United We Stand is to use “the momentum of the tour [to] unite and empower voters and build a base of supporters for young people running for local office in 2014.” The foundation plans to support debate initiatives to support “new candidates for office, especially those running for Congressional seats.”

Or, as Lee Camp asked, “The question now is just whether we will put our differences aside long enough to tell the assholier than thou titans of dickery at the top to go frack themselves with a rusty dildo!”

View Lee Camp at United We Stand (full set):

Immortal Technique at #UnitedWeStand:

“Fuck Monsanto” Impromptu Cheer at United We Stand:

Rooftop Revolutionaries at United We Stand:

Sounds of Solidarity at United We Stand:

Peace Signs at United We Stand Festival:

Gary Franchi: How Journalists Saved #BundyRanch from Becoming Another WACO (1:47):

Rosa Koire Agenda 21 Exposed (3:10):

Foster Gamble Free Energy (7:31):

Jill Stein on the Green Economy at United We Stand (1:19):

Poet Nano Munoz at United We Stand Festival (1:48):

Rosa Clemente Green Party Candidate Speaking about Race (3:23):

Sean Stone on POWER of Power (1:26):

Lee Camp on MSM at United We Stand (4:52):

Freddy Sayegh on the Monetization of Natural Resources (4:40):

David Swanson the War on Terror (3:44):

Luis Rodriguez Green Party Candidate for Governor of California (1:31):

Ben Swan on Edward Snowden at United We Stand Festival (0:31):

Fuck Monsanto! United We Stand Festival Crowd Expressing Their Views on Monsanto (2:05):

Richard Gage: Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth (2:42):

Dan Johnson -- 19 Year Old Founder of People against the NDAA (PANDAA) (1:48):

Nick Bernabe of the AntiMedia and March Against Monsanto on the TPP (6:14):

Chino XL at #UnitedWeStand (0:35):

Immortal Technique at #UnitedWeStand (2:18):

Published May 11, 2014 by Occupy Los Angeles OWS. @OccupyLAOWS

Global Cannabis March Los Angeles Represents Drug War Prisoners Serving Life Sentences for Marijuana

posted May 5, 2014, 11:09 AM by The Editor   [ updated May 5, 2014, 9:49 PM ]

On the first Saturday of May, people gather in over 400 cities worldwide to celebrate cannabis hemp. The 16th annual Los Angeles Global Cannabis March (also known as the Million Marijuana March) marched at high noon along Crenshaw Boulevard to Leimert Park on Saturday, May 3, 2013.

LOS ANGELES — Despite multiple last minute changes at the whim of the LAPD and the City of Los Angeles, the 16th annual Global Cannabis March took place on Saturday May 3rd in solidarity with hundreds of cities around the world.

Three days prior to the event, the permit holder was informed that construction on the Crenshaw Metro line required a shortening of the parade route.  Social networks and phone chains buzzed as the last minute change of plans was communicated to attendees. Considering the hot weather predicted , no one minded learning they would be walking a shorter distance, but not everyone could be informed of the change before the day of the event.

The announcement that police would not close the street was delivered after people had traveled from Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, San Diego, and Ventura counties to assemble in Los Angeles. No one was inclined to move the date of a global hemp revolution event already in progress, so the crowd decided take the sidewalk along the parade route.

After a quick reminder for cars to obey all traffic signals and pedestrian marchers to leave passing room on the sidewalk, the march took off towards Leimert Park. Cars covered with sparkly green leaves and messages celebrating the benefits of hemp honked their horns as nearly one hundred people marched on foot.

“Change Bad Laws: Get on a Jury” declared a banner running the full length of one red sports car. Jury nullification refers to your Constitutional right to vote “not guilty” on immoral or unjust laws (such as putting human beings in prison for growing or possessing a plant) if you sit on a jury.

“If nature is illegal, then freedom does not exist” observed a banner on a pick-up truck. Other signs on the truck mentioned the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2016 (or “Jack Herer” initiative), which is the only California initiative to truly repeal prohibition, fully legalize hemp for all uses, and free the pot prisoners.

Volunteers from The Human Solution, NORML Women’s Alliance, and Orange County NORML formed a contingent to honor cannabis prisoners of war (POWs) serving time behind bars for a plant. As the march traveled along Crenshaw Boulevard, 3-foot tall signs bearing the pictures of marijuana POWs caught the attention of passerby and traffic.

An 8-foot wide banner spanning the sidewalk pleaded “A Marijuana Offense Should Not Equal a Life Sentence. Set them Free!” Another sign listed the names of 22 people serving life sentences for marijuana.

Global Cannabis March 2014, Los Angeles, CA

Father of three Jimmy Romans was sentenced in February 2013 to life in prison for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. https://www.facebook.com/jimmyromanslifeforpot

In 1994, Paul Free was convicted of the crime committed by a now-deceased DEA agent. He has served 19 years of his life sentence. Unless he gets a pardon or commuted sentence from the President he will die in prison. https://www.facebook.com/FreePaulFree/

Champion race car driver and father of two Randy Lanier has been incarcerated since 1987. After he refused to testify against his codefendants, he was charged with being the principal administrator of a “continual criminal enterprise,” which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole. http://www.randylanier.com

Vietnam veteran Larry Duke has served 24 years of his life sentence for marijuana. http://www.lifeforpot.com/

Towing company co-owner Craig Cesal has been incarcerated since 2002 for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to transport marijuana. https://www.facebook.com/FreeCraigCesal/

John Knock and Claude Duboc are serving life in prison after being implicated by a confidential informant (CI) in 1994. http://www.johnknock.com/

Michael Pelletier, confined to a wheelchair since childhood, was sentenced to life without parole in 2008. http://www.lifeforpot.com/

Want to reform the prison system? We can start by granting group clemency to nonviolent drug offenders serving life sentences. Sign this petition to President Obama:  http://www.change.org/petitions/president-barack-obama-grant-group-clemency-to-nonviolent-drug-offenders-serving-life-sentences

Also represented in Saturday’s Global Cannabis March were prisoners who were convicted in federal court despite complying with California state medical marijuana laws. Aaron Sandusky, Luke Scarmazzo, Roger Christie, and Eddy Lepp were among the federal prisoners depicted on signs.

Hemptivist Dr. Mesmer carried a “Phytoremediate Fukushima” sign in the march. Phytoremediation is the process of using plants to clean a toxic environment. Large scale hemp planting has the potential to reduce air pollution and scrub toxic substances from the soil.

 A single LAPD squad car escorted the march down Crenshaw. The officers did not cite anyone for pedestrian violations, despite photographers stepping into the road to take pictures. The decorated vehicles accompanying the parade were permitted to travel below the legal minimum speed.

This year’s cannabis march was dedicated in loving memory of Richard Davis of the USA Hemp Museum (who passed away this year) and Sister Somaya Kambui. Both brave cannabis pioneers produced the early Los Angeles global marijuana marches and contributed to the event until their passing. Sister Somayah would open the rallies with her battle cry, “Don’t Be Scared,” and she always carried a hemp plant with her in the parade.

Medical marijuana pioneer Richard Eastman greeted the march at Leimert Park. He returned from Washington, D.C. to attend the march, but did not receive notice of the last minute formation change.

Speeches in the park celebrated California’s status as the first state in the nation to allow medical marijuana. One person wondered,  “given the level of air pollution experienced in Los Angeles, could [we] be an extreme beneficiary of large scale hemp planting to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere?”

“Hemp is an awesome, non toxic technology that we should be using on a grand scale. It is imperative that we implement the hemp solution now, to Fukushima, fracking, GMOs, illnesses that cannabis cures, and industrial uses.” You can make over 50,000 items from hemp, including bio-fuels, building materials, plastics, papers, foods, oils, dyes, fibers, buds (all of which can be used as 4D & 3D printing filaments/inks). Hemp has “so many life-improving and -saving capabilities…no wonder marijuana is illegal.”

Another hempster noted, “It is way past time for We, the People to take back our relationship with Mother Nature. The government has created so many more problems with their drug war policy.”

The Human Solution founder Joe Grumbine, a veteran of a four year court battle for operating a Long Beach dispensary, spoke about the need to channel energy into contacting our elected representatives. “How many of you know the name of your representative?” he challenged the crowd.

We, the People vote in the Congress that has the power to make laws. We all know that the majority of the public disagrees with the Drug War, so why do we allow it to continue on? It is time to make our law enforcement system representative of the will of the people. It’s time to end Prohibition.

Published May 5, 2014 by United States V. Marijuana.

This article is mirrored on the L.A. Indymedia newswire at:

Federal Prison—American Hellhole by Cynthia Johnston

posted Jun 10, 2013, 7:27 PM by The Editor   [ updated Jun 10, 2013, 7:53 PM ]

I wish I was a headlight on a north-bound train
I’d shine my light through the cool Colorado rain.

~ “I Know You Rider,” Grateful Dead classic by “Traditional”

The Colorado sun was baking hot. The ground was still muddy from thunderstorms that flooded Four Mile Canyon the night before. Clumps of dirt and dung exploded into clouds of dust as I stroked the horse’s flank with a stiff metal brush. Glittering dung-dust settled on my face and arms as one word kept rolling around in my head:


Luke Scarmazzo. What he wouldn’t give for a cloud of sunlit dust. Luke Scarmazzo. Locked away in a cold, cramped cage, Luke Scarmazzo is serving over twenty years in federal prison for operating a medical marijuana dispensary in compliance with California law. That law, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (also known as Proposition 215) allows patients with a valid doctor’s recommendation, as well as their primary caregivers, to possess and grow marijuana for personal medical use. Subsequent bills further clarified the intent of its authorsspecifically, to allow patients to associate collectively to cultivate marijuana, as well as to provide state ID cards for patients and caregivers.

Prop 215 passed with 55.6 percent of the voteit was the will of the people of California that patients be allowed to use marijuana to ease their suffering. But the will of the people has long since been subverted by over-zealous officials with their own agendas, people like former L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley, who has insisted since 2009 that the Compassionate Use Act means no money can change hands for medical marijuana. In Cooley’s book, all medical marijuana sales are illegalas in, felonies. All he has to do is send an undercover cop with a fake ID and a legitimate doctor’s recommendation to make a few purchases at a medical marijuana dispensary and voila! He’s caught himself a kingpin. (Listing the same “crime”–selling marijuana–over and over during the length of an investigation lets police astronomically increase the bail bond amount and pile on felonies, including conspiracy charges, setting up dispensary owners as “kingpins.”)

In court, the prosecutorfor the Peopledetermines the charges, some of which come with automatic mandatory minimum sentences. “Mandatory minimums” were enacted by Congress in 1986 during the Reagan/Bush administration. Part of a bi-partisan effort to get tough on drugs after up-and-coming Celtics basketball star Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose, mandatory minimum sentencing was intended to stop international drug cartels from trafficking.

The idea that some street-level dealer serving a long prison sentence would deter his criminal “kingpin” employer would be laughable if so many law abiding growers and dispensary owners weren’t getting caught in the dragnet. But beyond the fact that this policy was based on magical thinking, by taking sentencing control away from judges and giving it to prosecutors, it also stopped judges from judging. Thanks to mandatory minimums, a judge no longer gets to decide whether the punishment fits the crime.

Injustice, Enhanced

While judges sit on the bench with their hands tied, prosecutors run rampant over the will of the people, even deciding whether a case is tried in state or federal court, which, for a defendant, is virtually a life-or-death decision. The federal prison population is now jam-packed with low-level, nonviolent drug “offenders,” including medical marijuana growers and dispensary owners. Having become involved with medical marijuana in the first place because they were qualified patients, growing numbers of them are suffering and even dying in custody without medication.

Other than the actual drug cartels the conspiracy laws were meant to stop, the prison industrial complex is one of the only real winners in this twisted game of perverted justice. Thanks to the insane levels of power awarded to federal prosecutors via mandatory minimums and other “enhanced” sentencing methods, many defense lawyers advise their clients to accept a plea bargain (i.e. plead guilty to lesser charges) rather than play Russian roulette with a jury trial because the federal system is stacked against them.

“Fuck the Feds”

"The United States Attorneys Office ... will vigorously prosecute individuals
and organizations that participate in the unlawful  manufacturing,
distribution and marketing activity involving marijuana,
even if such activities are permitted under state law."

~United States Attorney John Walsh, May 2, 2011

In Stanislaus County, Luke Scarmazzo and Richard (Ricardo) Montes were medical marijuana patients who decided to open a dispensary in the central valley because they, like many local patients, had to travel over a hundred miles to get their meds. And because it looked like a damn good way to make a living. In 2004, after complying with state regulations, they opened the California Healthcare Collective (CHC). Their first day of operation earned them a headline in the local newspaper: “Pot Dispensary in Modesto.”

“When I arrived at work the next morning, there was a line of people waiting at the door,” wrote Scarmazzo in a letter originally published in Prison Outreach Press. “The line was so long it looked as if a blockbuster movie was premiering inside our building.”

Instant success inspired them to intensify their efforts to comply with the law. Security personnel examined patients’ state ID cards. CHC contacted doctors’ offices to verify every recommendation. They hired an attorney and paid taxes, despite the attorney’s legal interpretation that cannabis as medicine ought to be exempt from taxation. “We thought we had appeased everyone,” he wrote.

The Modesto Police Department and City Council thought differently. They began taking steps to ban dispensaries within city limits. Scarmazzo and Montes hired a land-use attorney and attended a series of meetings with the city council. “On each occasion, the outpouring of community support was overwhelming,” wrote Scarmazzo. “The council sensed that they were fighting a losing battle and finally, after months of litigation, conceded. We were exhilarated.”

Their triumph was short-lived. Twenty-four hours before their final meeting with the city council, in the pre-dawn hours, the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) sent in storm troopers. At gun-point, they raided and arrested Luke, Richard, and all the employees of California Healthcare Collective. Federal prosecutor Kathleen Servatius charged the two men with conducting a continuing criminal enterprisea “kingpin” charge originally intended for crack-cocaine drug-lords and international cartels–and which carries a mandatory prison sentence of twenty years to life.

“We were unnerved by [the prospect of] such an intimidating sentence, but I knew we had followed the letter of California law completely and committed no crime,” wrote Scarmazzo. With that in mind, he and Montes turned down a ten-year plea deal and chose instead to put their fate in the hands of a jury.

Business Man by Kraz

During the trial, the Court did not permit them to present the defense that they ran a state-approved dispensary. By order of the judge, Scarmazzo and Montes couldn’t so much as whisper the words medical marijuana or state law. Their attorneys pleaded with the judge and prosecutor to allow them to tell their side of the story, to no avail. Despite the defendants’ sworn oath to tell the whole truth, they were systematically denied that right by the judge himself.

The prosecutor, on the other hand, was permitted during her closing arguments to play a music video entitled “Business Man.” The YouTube video depicts Luke, performing as hip-hop artist Kraz, rapping about marijuana, cash, weapons and women. The catchy refrain, “Fuck the Feds!,” did not help his cause. In fact, a case could be made that Luke is doing time for making bad art–within a month of the release of his rap album, he was indicted by the feds.

Responding to Luke’s assertion that he was being sent to federal prison over a rap video in violation of his 1st Amendment right to free speech, prosecutor Servatius wrapped up her argument, saying, “We don’t prosecute people because they sing songs. We prosecute people because they sold marijuana in violation of federal law.”

“The decision to take this case to trial was political,” stated federal Judge Oliver W. Wanger. “Not on the part of the government, but on the part of Mr. Scarmazzo.”

First Amendment Up in Smoke

In another federal case, Thomas B. Kin Chong, a/k/a Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong comedy duo fame, served nine months in federal prison, allegedly for selling bongs on the Internet. After his son Paris, who ran Chong Glass, was harangued into mailing a shipment of bongs to a phony head shop in Pennsylvania, one of only two states in the country to adhere to so-called bong laws, he was slapped with one count of conspiracy to ship paraphernalia across state lines. “My arrest for selling glass was political,” said Tommy Chong in an interview with Sacred Cow productions inside California’s Taft Correctional Institution. “I feel very honored. I put myself in the same category as Martin Luther King, as Gandhi, as Lenny Bruce and Timothy Leary. We were arrested for talking about an idea. The glass was just an excuse.”

Chong had no prior convictions, didn’t mail the bongs himself, and didn’t run the family business, although his face was on the product. Of all the people rounded up in the feds’ “Operation Pipe Dreams,” he was the only one to receive a prison sentence. Under threat of seeing his wife and son face charges, he took a deal to serve nine months in federal prison. In the film a/k/a Tommy Chong: United States of America v. Thomas B. Kin Chong by Josh Gilbert, George W. Bush’s hand-picked federal prosecutor, Mary Beth Buchanan, rationalized Chong’s over-the-top sentence by claiming he got rich “trivializing law enforcement efforts to combat marijuana trafficking and use” in the Cheech and Chong stoner classic, Up In Smoke.

Once you lose your sense of humor, it’s just not funny any more.

~Wavy Gravy, Founder, SEVA, Camp Winnarainbow
and star of “Saint Misbehavin”

Back in the early Eighties, when I read The Trials of Lenny Bruce by Ronald Collins and David Skover, I came away with a single conclusion: Once you start talking about legal cases, it’s just not funny any more. Not that I’m trying to be funny. The point is, we need to delve into some seriously unfunny legal matters if we are to understand–and more importantly, reverse–a dangerous trend in our system of justice, which is to say, a trend toward gross injustice.

Strands of this malevolent web stretch back to the early Seventies and President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon spawned the “War on Drugs,” which was really a war on anti-war protesters, liberals and anyone else who got in his way. “You see,” he said to White House Chief of Staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman on an Oval Office tape (May 13, 1971), “homosexuality, dope, immorality in general: These are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff. They’re trying to destroy us.”

[For more information on Nixon’s War on Drugs, read Johnston’s War Without End.]

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which Nixon signed into law on October 27, 1970, created five “schedules” for regulating drugs based on medicinal value and potential for addiction. Marijuana was listed as a Schedule I drug with no medicinal benefit and a high potential for abuse. The following year, Nixon created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, known as the Shafer Commission, after “law and order” Governor Raymond P. Shafer of Pennsylvania, whom Nixon personally appointed to head it up.

In a surprise move, the Shafer Commission, after conducting the most comprehensive study of marijuana in American history, wound up recommending that possession and non-profit transfer of marijuana be decriminalized, stating, in part, that the actual and potential harm from using marijuana “is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.” President Nixon did not share that reluctance. His reaction was to declare “all out war, on all fronts” against marijuana.

In 1973, having declared drug abuse Public Enemy #1, President Nixon established the Drug Enforcement Agency. The DEA currently has a presence in virtually every country in the world, although increasing numbers of governments and the United Nations have begun to question the efficacy of the so-called War on Drugs.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

In the eye of the federal government, there’s only one type
of marijuana. And marijuana is a Schedule I controlled
[federally prohibited] substance.

~ Office of U.S. Attorney John Walsh, May 2011

In 2012, two states, Colorado and Washington, voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. As of June, 2013, with Maryland joining their ranks, eighteen other states and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize medical marijuana, placing them all at odds with a federal government that seems to care nothing for the will of the people. Nixon’s legacy of running a war on drugs continues unabated from six feet under.
aPOTcalypse Zombie
And his bony reach from the grave seems to have President Obama by the throat, because in 2011 Obama said he was not planning to end the war on drugs any time soon.

Despite Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to lighten up on marijuana prosecutions, and Deputy Attorney General David Ogden’s 2009 memo (referred to as the “Ogden Memo”) to U.S. Attorneys instructing them not to focus federal resources on “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana,” federal attorneys in the Obama administration have taken a disturbingly hard-line position.

Indeed, President Obama has put more medical marijuana patients in prison than any other president in history. “Far surpassing his predecessor George W. Bush, President Obama has conducted more than 200 SWAT-style raids on state-compliant medical marijuana businesses and has indicted more than 80 people since he took office,” stated Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, on January 4, 2013. “The number of sick patients being locked up by the Obama Administration is unprecedented and deplorable.”

In a worst-case example, Montana's first registered caregiver Richard Flor died in federal custody at a private prison facility in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 30, 2012. After suffering two heart attacks and organ failure, Flor was placed on life support while still shackled to his bed, according to his lawyer. His friend Montana marijuana patient advocate Tom Daubert wrote in West Coast Leaf, "Twenty minutes after Flor died, federal marshals unlocked the shackles on his ankles, placed there despite the fact that Flor had long before lost the ability even to walk."

On September 25, 2012, according to California NORML, “federal authorities took legal action against 71 medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles County, including all known collectives in downtown and Eagle Rock as part of an ongoing campaign to crack down on medical marijuana.” The same thing is going on all over the state, but lest this blog become a litany of federal travesty, California NORML keeps a running account of “notable examples” at CANORML.org

In one such case, on September 27, 2012, “150 agents from US Homeland Security (!), FBI, DEA, CHP and Sonoma sheriff's deputies wearing military garb and accompanied by an armored military vehicle stormed from house to house, pulling up backyard gardens, in an impoverished section of Santa Rosa.”

Americans for Safe Access also keeps track of medical marijuana raids, arrests and incarcerations. ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes didn’t mince words when he stated, “The Obama Administration is lying to the American people when it says it’s not targeting individual patients….”

In addition to mass arrests of patients and providers, the federal government has sent letters to landlords who rent to medical cannabis collectives, threatening them with asset forfeiture and criminal charges. In states like Washington, Rhode Island, Arizona and Hawaii, U. S. attorneys have threatened local elected officials with criminal prosecution should they try to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. At least one dispensary owner in California, on top of being arrested for marijuana possession and distribution, was later hit with federal money laundering charges. And the largest dispensary in the state, if not the world, Harborside Health Center in Oakland, was slammed with $2.4 million dollars in back taxes, in effect, putting them out of business.

California NORML Director Dale Gieringer, Ph.D., says, "The DOJ's real agenda is to try to destroy the most successful leaders in the medical cannabis industry because they prove that lawful access to cannabis works, contrary to the government's bankrupt policy of prohibition."

All illegal drugs are bad.

~ DEA administrator Michele Leonhart

On July 8, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a nine-year-old request by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis to have marijuana removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and rescheduled as cannabis in Schedule III, IV or V.

However, in the wording of the Ogden Memo, quoted earlier, by acknowledging existing state laws on medical marijuana, the federal government has tacitly admitted marijuana does have a medical use. That alone would seem to be grounds for rescheduling. But at least, by coming down with a ruling, the Court opened the way for Americans for Safe Access to appeal the decision. Finally, lawyers were able to present the federal government with scientific evidence of marijuana’s medicinal benefits. On October 16, 2012, oral arguments were heard in the case Americans for Safe Access v. the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Disregarding numerous scientific studies that have shown marijuana's medical efficacy, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the petition on January 28, 2013, “deferring to the [DEA’s] interpretation of these regulations [of the Controlled Substances Act],” maintaining marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug.

In order to be grounded, I've got to be crazy.
 And I must be crazy to keep flying.
But if I ask to be grounded, that means I'm not crazy anymore,
and I have to keep flying.

~ Yossarian, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Commenting on the Appeals Court decision, California NORML Director Dale Gieringer, Ph.D. stated, “In its reply, the DEA claimed that it would only accept large-scale, controlled FDA trials. In a Catch-22, however, the DEA has deliberately blocked such trials by refusing to approve the licensing of a private production facility to supply marijuana for medical research and development at the University of Massachusetts. The only existing legal source for research marijuana in the country is the National Institute for Drug Abuse, which recently blocked a request to study marijuana for treatment of PTSD and has said that it has no intention of developing its marijuana for medical use.” [Italics added for emphasis.]

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision of January 28, 2013 also rejected the recommendation of DEA administrative law judge Mary Ellen Bittner, ruling in support of Professor Lyle Craker's application to the DEA to grow marijuana, concluding that it is in the public's interest for Craker to be permitted to grow marijuana for use in research into the plant's medical benefits.”

Meanwhile, Back in the Gulag

Convict-writer Dannie Martin described Lompoc Penitentiary as a "caldron of fear, hatred and violence" in an article for The San Francisco Chronicle in the late ‘eighties, accusing the warden of creating riot conditions. Today, with the occasional report of gang violence, prison riots and random stabbings leaking into the news, USP Lompoc is an overcrowded hellhole. There you will find Federal Inmate Number 63131-097the husband, father, son, businessman and artist formerly known as Luke Scarmazzo.

Because he was given a mandatory minimum sentence of twenty-one years and eight months for his involvement in a “continuing criminal enterprise,” he was classified as a maximum-security inmate. “I have been condemned to wander this desert of solitude until I am a gray, old man,” wrote Luke. “I will never give up hope that one day I will feel the warm sunshine upon my face, smell the sweet fragrance of freedom and hear Jasmine’s voice softly whisper, ‘Welcome home, Daddy.’”

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, horses were being groomed in the Colorado sunshine for a surprise father-daughter horseback entrance at my cousin’s wedding. Flower girls laughed and talked while making bouquets of long-stemmed red roses at a picnic table in the shade of an olive tree.

As I brushed tangles out of a horse’s mane, I thought about Luke Scarmazzo’s little girls, growing up without their father. I know from experience what it’s like when Daddy goes away. The reason doesn’t matter. Only the absence does.

Luke Scarmazzo is one of a burgeoning number of incarcerated Americans, snatched from their families in the dark of night. The day he was arrested also happened to be his daughter Jasmine’s fourth birthday. She and her mother, DeVina, were waiting for him at a hotel in Disneyland. He was scheduled to catch the noon flight to Los Angeles after meeting with the city council. “I never made that flight and I never showed up for her birthday party.”

Instead of celebrating his daughter’s birthday with Mickey Mouse, Luke Scarmazzo was surrounded by men in black military fatigues, storming his home with machine guns, “ripping me out of bed at barrel-point.”

When the trial was over and the jury found out how much time he and Richard Montes were going to serve, several jurors begged the judge to dismiss the verdict. The judge was unmoved. Or maybe he was just immobilized by mandatory minimums.

Some jurors filed affidavits, recanting their verdicts. That became part of an appeal to the 9th Circuit Appellate Court. “We felt sure they would correct this injustice and overturn our egregious sentences,” wrote Scarmazzo. “I was certain we would return home and be reunited with our families. I was wrong.”

Back from working all day in the prison commissary warehouse and anxious to return to his “cold, cramped cell,” Scarmazzo noticed his name on the mail distribution list. He eagerly opened a letter from his brother Nick.

“Bro, sorry to hear about the news,” wrote Nick, who went on to tell him that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had affirmed their convictions.

“I was devastated. My attorney had not even contacted me with the news,” he wrote. “Worse than hearing the judge’s gavel slam when the guilty verdict was read aloud, this feeling had much more permanence and finality. Like a heavy mallet, the thought hammers me that the next twenty years of my life could likely pass through these dreary, interchangeable prison cages…”

Ironically, on May 24, 2013, Eduardo Arellano Felix of the brutal Arrellano Felix organization, a/k/a the Tijuana cartel, who smuggled hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana into California, took a deal and plead guilty to money laundering and conspiracy, and is awaiting sentencing. Federal prosecutors are recommending 15 years, almost six years less than Luke Scarmazzo, who operated a medical marijuana dispensary according to state law.

Irony of Ironies

In addition to the United States Penitentiary at Lompoc, there’s an adjacent prison camp that once housed minimum security male inmates. This is where White House Chief of Staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman served time as a convicted felon after the Watergate scandal forced President Nixon to resign in 1974.
Nixon’s personal attorney, Herbert Kalmbach also checked into USP Lompoc after admitting to illegally soliciting $3.9 million in campaign donations.

But Lompoc is not “Club Fed” any more. In 1990 the prison camp was upgraded from minimum security Lompoc Federal Prison Camp to Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution to create space for more prisoners, mostly drug “offenders,” serving longer, mandatory sentences. As of January, 2013, sixty percent of prisoners at Lompoc FCI were serving time for drug “offenses.” According to the Lompoc Record, the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex currently houses over 3,300 inmates in facilities that were designed for 2,200.

While Tommy Chong was a federal inmate, he confided to Sacred Cow Productions, “I’m the resident celebrity.” Interviewed in a holding cell, he talked about life behind bars, which is no fun, even for a funny man. But he brightened when he said, “I spend a lot of time taking pictures with inmates, which I love. I get a lot of mail and I love that, too! I love hearing the C.O. call my name. Chong! Chong! Chong! I love that!

Sending a letter to a prisoner is like shining a light into a very dark corner. Tommy Chong is free now, but you can write to Luke Scarmazzo at:

Luke Scarmazzo, Register No. 63131-097
U. S. Penitentiary
3901 Klein Blvd.
Lompoc, CA 93436

With good behavior, he will be released on April 25, 2027.


Cynthia Johnston began writing about her experience as a medical marijuana patient as soon as she “got legal.” She went public on behalf of legalization in 1980 with the California Marijuana Initiative and a headline: “Marijuana Protester Busted at High Noon.”  Johnston published her first blog before blogging was a word. A subsequent online journal earned her the opportunity to write a piece, “Mobile Homeless,” for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s been blogging ever since.

Cops Break Law on Taxpayer Dime: The Joe Grumbine Trial Covered by Cynthia Johnston

posted Jan 28, 2013, 4:01 AM by The Editor   [ updated Jun 6, 2013, 5:27 AM ]

Just as every cop is a criminal,
and all the sinners saints.
As heads is tails, just call me Lucifer,
‘cause I’m in need of some restraint.

~ The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”
“We lie to them,” testified Lead Detective Oscar Valenzuela. “We lie through our teeth." For once, he spoke the truth.
Lead Detective Oscar Valenzuela was on the stand as the People’s first “expert” witness in the trial of former medical marijuana dispensary owners Joe Byron and Joe Grumbine. It was Thursday, December 1, 2011 – Day Four of a massively expensive and pointless criminal trial in Long Beach, California. Detective Oscar Valenzuela was a main player in this jaw-dropping drama.

Not for the first time, lanky, blonde, hyper-vigilant bailiff Matt O’Donnell whirled around in his khaki sheriff’s uniform with its tasteful black leather holster belt and threatened the whole audience with expulsion if even one of them gasped again. Quite a tall order, given this sudden blast of naked truth from the man who masterminded the investigation of Byron and Grumbine – an investigation based on lies. Lies by the People and for the People.

Make no mistake. By “the People,” I sure as hell don’t mean you and me, my fellow citizen. I mean the Prosecution. And by “the Prosecution,” I don’t just mean the prosecuting attorney. I mean a vast cabal of law-scoffing law enforcement officials, up and down the chain of command, so ingrained into our culture that when you even begin to see the whole thing – when you even begin to see a pimple on the ass of the whole thing – it’s like a million pound shithammer to the cerebral cortex.

Voter Nullification

There’s no such thing as paranoia.
It’s worse than you think.

~ Outlaw biker to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Our vote doesn’t count any more. It’s that simple. To me, the vote is the sine-qua-non of a Democracy. Translated from the Latin by my dear, departed Dad, that means “without which, there ain’t no.”

If our vote doesn’t count, we don’t have a Democracy. Voter nullification is another way of saying, “coup.” Given America’s newly established (or at least newly acknowledged) corporate personhood, perhaps “hostile takeover” is a more accurate term. No matter. My point is that in a Democracy, the voters should have the last word.

Take election day, November, 1996. That was the day California voters decided to allow qualified patients safe access to medical marijuana by passing Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act. That was over fifteen years ago. The whole point was to protect patients and providers from the Oscar Valenzuelas of the world.

Which didn’t sit too well with the Oscar Valenzuelas of the world. But let’s not give an over-zealous gumshoe all the credit. Valenzuela’s overlord, the portly son of an FBI agent, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley is even more rabidly anti-medical marijuana than his Long Beach gunsel. And the same goes for his boss and his boss’s boss. Ever since the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 was enacted into law, law enforcement has been working overtime trying to drown it in the bathtub.

Operation Eradication – Your Tax Dollars at Waste

In 2003, California Senate Bill 420 was enacted into law, allowing patients to cultivate marijuana collectively and cooperatively. Collectives formed and dispensaries opened all across the state. At the same time, police geared up to wipe them out.

The authors of SB 420 intended to make access to medical marijuana easier and safer for patients and providers, not to give police a hammer to hit them over the head with. But that very year, the California Police Chiefs Association created a Task Force on Marijuana Dispensaries, made up of “representatives of numerous law enforcement agencies and allies who share the goal of bringing to light the criminal nexus and attendant societal problems posed by marijuana dispensaries that until now have been too often hidden in the shadows.” [My italics.] The following paragraph is included as a reminder that each individual involved was collecting a government salary, paid by the same good people who voted to legalize medical marijuana.

More than 30 people contributed to this project as members of CPCA’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary Crime/Impact Issues Task Force, which has been enjoying the hospitality of Sheriff John McGinnis at regular meetings held at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department’s Headquarters Office over the past three years about every three months.

The hospitality and headquarters office space were obviously paid for by taxpayer dollars. No doubt we also covered meal and travel expenses for thirty people traveling to Sacramento from all over the state every ninety days for three years. So what did we get for our money?

We got a “White Paper” cranked out by California’s finest. We got city council members happily swallowing everything the top cops fed them about the “criminal nexus and attendant societal problems posed by marijuana dispensaries” in their communities; problems that were so hidden in the shadows that they may not have even noticed until the cream of local authority – the police chiefs – took it upon themselves to lobby them. We got county governments sheepishly falling in line with what the cops told them to do. We got dispensary bans in cities and counties all across the state, based on “model bills” written by our very own trusted public servants – at our expense.

Just as the rabidly right-wing, back-room dealing, corporate-funded ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) writes “model bills” for their member legislators to introduce at the state level – for the benefit of America’s corporate bottom line, including our loathsome prison industrial complex – California’s police chiefs are doing the same thing at the local level; spreading fear and lies, trashing the will of the people, destroying jobs and lives, and shoveling citizens they’re supposed to protect and serve into the gaping maw of a for-profit prison system that has no place in a democracy. That’s what we got for our money.

But wait. There’s more. We also got horrific, multi-agency raids on homes and dispensaries all across the state, destroying the lives and livelihoods of dispensary owners like Joe Byron and Joe Grumbine, forcing them to spend two years fighting for their Constitutional right to defend themselves in court. That comes to a total of over forty courtroom appearances, costing taxpayers between $10,000 and $15,000 per day for the courtroom alone, according to Judge Charles D. Sheldon's own calculations.

Then we got an eighteen-day trial in a kangaroo court that wrangled a guilty verdict out of an ill-instructed jury, thanks to procedural maneuverings by the prosecuting attorney and a blatantly biased judge who actually recused himself on sentencing day “to prevent the appearance of bias.”

And then, we got a brand new judge, two more court dates and a damn good chance to start the whole thing over again. The problem is, we also have a damn good chance of seeing the Joes taken away in handcuffs. Their third day in court with Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani is Friday the 13th of April, 2012, at which time Judge Comparet-Cassani will rule on attorney Allison B. Margolin’s Motion for a New Trial.

And another thirty-five or forty grand of hard-earned taxpayer dollars circles the drain.

On April 2, 2012, Oaksterdam University – “the Harvard of Hemp” in Oakland, California, where hundreds of students have learned how to comply with state law in all things relating to medical marijuana – was raided by storm troopers from the DEA, the IRS, and the Oakland Police Department, instantly bankrupting founder Richard Lee, destroying more lives and livelihoods, handcuffing patients, some in wheel chairs or on crutches, and roughly shoving protesters with riot-control batons.

What we got for our money was a police state.

Don’t worry. We’ve got him good.

~ Detective Oscar Valenzuela, Long Beach Police Department

When we first reported on the Byron/Grumbine case in June of 2011, it was already a long and twisted saga. On December 10, 2008, Joe Grumbine had been arrested for marijuana possession in Riverside County, California. He and his partner Joe Byron were operating their first medical marijuana dispensary in Garden Grove, Orange County. Grumbine was driving home to Riverside County and transporting medical marijuana when he was stopped for having a trailer ball on his bumper.

He took his case to trial, and seventeen court days (times ten or fifteen grand per day in tax dollars) later, on November 2, 2009, he was exonerated of all charges. The Judge stated that, based on proof of patients, patient outreach programs and a huge witness list, “the Court finds that Mr. Grumbine was acting in accordance with California law.”

Right after Grumbine was exonerated, Long Beach Police Detective Oscar Valenzuela of Los Angeles County consoled the Riverside County District Attorney, saying “Don’t worry. We’ve got him good.”

Five weeks later, on December 17, 2009, all hell broke loose for Byron and Grumbine. Their homes and businesses, and those of their employees and volunteers – seventeen locations altogether – were swooped on by a SWAT team of over a hundred and twenty policemen with weapons drawn, drug-sniffing dogs, helicopters and a fleet of vehicles. The City of Long Beach has refused to put a price tag on the raids, in violation of multiple Freedom of Information Act requests by patient-activist Charles Monson. Claiming they don’t keep track of hours that way, Long Beach continues to stonewall on the cost of the raids, but estimates go as high as 2.4 million dollars – and higher.

“Expert” Training
Let me be clear about this: I don’t have a drug problem. I have a police problem.

~ Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones

On October 9, 2009, just two months before Byron and Grumbine were raided, the California Narcotics Officers Association put on a training course called The Eradication of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County.

Touted as a “must class for patrol, parole, probation and narcotic investigators,” the whole concept goes against the intent of the Compassionate Use Act, not to mention the will of the people. The class was hosted by Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley (who enjoys an annual salary of $301,731 plus benefits and retirement, courtesy of you, the taxpayer); City Attorney Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich (who rakes in a cool $214,546 taxpayer dollars, plus bennies, every year); President of the California Police Chief’s Association and Pasadena Police Chief Barney Melekian (pocketing between $182,000 and $228,000 of your money per year, according to my calculations); and several other high-end law enforcement officials, including Head Deputy District Attorney, Joey Esposito of the LADA Major Narcotics Division – a team of specially trained attorneys responsible for prosecuting significant narcotics trafficking organizations in Los Angeles County. This outfit ensures that “highly effective prosecutors represent the people of the State of California in cases against drug traffickers most responsible for the drug supply.”

And with these well-chosen words, our local compassionate caregivers are placed squarely in the cross-hairs of specially trained cops and lawyers whose main purpose in life is to set them up as traffickers and feed them into the for-profit prison system, which in turn feeds them.

Busted down on Bourbon Street
Set up like a bowling pin
Knocked down, it gets to wearing thin
They just won't let you be.

~ The Grateful Dead, "Truckin'"

Denial: Not the Solution

The October 9, 2009 eradication training course offered participants an update on laws and current case decisions pertaining to Proposition 215 and SB 420 – which is why the Byron and Grumbine case is so important. Every case we lose gives them more ammunition to use against us. In spite of this, while a devoted handful of fellow dispensary owners have joined the ongoing protests in Long Beach on behalf of Byron and Grumbine (under the banner of non-profit support group The Human Solution, a.k.a. the Green Team,) far too many have not.

Unfortunately, they remain in denial about the danger they themselves face until it’s too late and they find themselves staring down the barrel of an assault rifle, while SWAT teams haul away all their computers (a.k.a. means of communication,) business records (a.k.a. exculpatory evidence,) patient lists (a.k.a. defense witnesses), cash (a.k.a. bail money and lawyer fees, now unavailable for that use) and medicine (to the detriment of patients whose safe access is mercilessly snatched away .)
The California Narcotics Officers Association training course detailed how to conduct a dispensary investigation. What it didn’t detail was how to recognize a legally compliant dispensary. The course offered specific training in the Compassionate Use Act… “to qualify as an expert when arresting person(s) in possession of quantities of marijuana for sale and are claiming the exemption under Proposition 215.” [My italics -- intended to highlight the prejudicial and undermining language used to demonize medical marijuana providers and thus, whip a room full of cops into a frothing-at-the-mouth gang of storm troopers out to save the world from evil drug cartels. Which, of course, they aren’t doing because they’re too busy copping doobies at dispensaries.]

K is for Kangaroo
Only in the courtroom can this special training be properly appreciated. This is where your friendly medical marijuana provider morphs into a low-life street thug, or in the case of Byron and Grumbine, “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” This is where you get to witness exactly what evidence your specially trained attorneys teach your peace officers to collect and, more importantly, what evidence not to collect, in order to get a conviction.
In retrospect, the exonerating statement by the judge in Grumbine’s Riverside case appears to have inspired a list of items the Long Beach police, prosecutor and judge, acting as the proverbial well-oiled machine, systematically prevented (or tried to prevent) from being admitted into evidence in the Byron/Grumbine case – namely, “proof of patients, patient outreach programs and a huge witness list.”
We will delve into such tactics in a later post, but for now here’s a taste: After the California Appellate Court granted an appeal by Byron’s attorney, Allison B. Margolin, and ordered Judge Sheldon to allow the Joes an affirmative defense, or explain himself to them, Sheldon gruffly allowed the defendants six witnesses each. The prosecution was allowed as many witnesses as she wanted. OK, here’s another taste: counting the number of defense objections overruled vs. prosecution objections overruled became a challenging spectator sport for the Green Team. My own notes are littered with hash-marks attempting to count them. Many were overruled before the word “objection” was out of the attorney’s mouth. Conversely, there were times the judge said, “sustained,” before the word “objection” was out of the prosecutor’s mouth. If lives didn’t hang in the balance, it would have been hilarious.

Jurors Denied the Whole Truth

In the courtroom, as the jury watches hours of soporific video secretly shot by an undercover cop with a fake ID and a real doctor’s recommendation, obtained by lying through his teeth, they don’t see the free wheelchairs in the corner, or the free food and clothing, or the job boards. They see price lists and “Twitter Specials” (highly incriminating; be warned. Ditto free doobies for first-time patients) that supposedly prove medical marijuana dispensaries to be fronts for drug traffickers. And if they can’t make that stick, they re-frame the crime itself. Suddenly the offense is “making a profit” instead of the original charge of felony marijuana “sales.”

The jury is then shown “Profit and Loss Statements” generated by the cops’ own computer programs, using incomplete financial records seized in raids. They don’t see the extent of start-up costs or business expenses. They don’t see how much of the medicine is there on consignment; the prosecution counts the street value of it as money going straight into dispensary owners’ pockets. But it’s actually money owed to the growers once the product is sold. It’s not an asset, it’s a debt. But the jury only sees money coming in -- money the Oscar Valenzuelas of the world misrepresent as “profit.” Misrepresent, as in lie through their teeth.

The overall effect is this: No matter what you do to comply with the law, you’re still wrong.

At the same time, through a series of well-honed courtroom procedures by the prosecutor and the judge – a self-described veteran of some 1,400 trials -- the defense team is systematically denied the right to defend their clients. A classic example was showcased when Grumbine’s attorney, Chris Glew tried to ascertain where Detective Valenzuela acquired his “expert” status on medical marijuana. When Mr. Glew started to ask whether Valenzuela had attended the above-mentioned eradication class, Judge Sheldon cut him off.

Together, Judge Sheldon and prosecutor Jodi Castano prevented either defense attorney from properly cross-examining the witness or ascertaining his credentials as a so-called expert. And this is only the opening salvo. We’ll explore these eye-popping tactics and other courtroom shenanigans in the near future. But I have to confess: I’ve spent four and a half months attempting to read my notes from the trial. Every time I open one of a stack of hastily scribbled notebooks, I am overwhelmed – not just by the sheer volume of it all, but also by the crushing weight of what it represents.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines kangaroo court as “a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted.” Wikipedia states that the “outcome of a trial by kangaroo court is essentially determined in advance, usually for the purpose of ensuring conviction, either by going through the motions of manipulated procedure or by allowing no defense at all.”

This accurately describes every day of this long and punishing trial. The Green Team – a dedicated group of medical marijuana patients and advocates, gathered under the banner of The Human Solution – witnessed every minute of it. Many of us took copious notes, which turns out to be a good thing because Judge Sheldon conveniently “shredded” every copy of his mumbled and confusing instructions to the jury, and the court reporter just happened to omit them from the transcript.

Rory Murray, a talented singer/songwriter and artist, made drawings of the courtroom proceedings. He too has provided a vital service, as Judge Sheldon barred cameras and recording devices from his courtroom. Two of Rory's drawings helped illustrate this story.

In our next post, we will take a closer look at the Green Team - true patriots who have dedicated their lives to fighting for justice. Were it not for a courtroom full of citizen witnesses this story would never have come to light. And the Joes would – and still may – join millions of their incarcerated fellow citizens who were similarly set-up, demonized, railroaded and imprisoned – on our dime.


Originally published April 10, 2012 at unitedstatesvmarijuana.blogspot.com

Victory At Jury Trial for LA's Dopest Attorney by Jessica Lux

posted Jan 28, 2013, 3:54 AM by The Editor   [ updated Feb 19, 2013, 5:28 AM ]

On May 31, 2011, defendant David Rios was found not guilty by a jury of his peers in the San Fernando Courthouse on charges of transporting five pounds of marijuana. Attorneys Allison Margolin and Raza Lawrence (Margolin & Lawrence, Beverly Hills, CA) demonstrated to the judge and jury that Mr. Rios was a qualified patient under Proposition 215 acting in accordance with state law. After three days of deliberation, spanning the Memorial Day weekend, the jury returned a NOT GUILTY verdict on all felony counts.

Mr. Rios was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) while transporting medicine for a collective from northern California to the Los Angeles area. Upon a search of the vehicle, officers found five 1 lb. bags of marijuana (all of which were prominently labeled as medical cannabis), a small container with additional marijuana, a pipe with burnt plant material, and a binder of patient recommendations. One of the photos introduced as evidence showed five clear plastic bags labeled as medical marijuana next to a stack of patient recommendations on the hood of a CHP patrol vehicle.

For seven courtroom days, The Human Solution and the Landa Prison Outreach Program (LPOP) attended the trial of medical marijuana patient David Rios. The Human Solution is a grassroots organization which provides education and support to cannabis users in the court system. Members of The Human Solution silently observe court appearances while wearing the green solidarity ribbon—a red cross centered on a green fabric ribbon that demonstrates unity among citizens opposed to the prosecution of cannabis users. At recent court support events, The Human Solution has filled all available courtroom seats with a sea of green ribbons. It is normal for a dozen members or more, some in wheelchairs, to attend court in support of one another.

During the trial, the prosecutor made a request that the green solidarity ribbon be banned from the courtroom. Outside the presence of the jury, the judge heard arguments and then ruled that the ribbon could stay in court! She noted that it doesn’t state any particular message or have a political acronym and therefore the solidarity ribbon is not a disruptive influence in court.

As a group, members of The Human Solution decided to maintain complete silence in the hallways and courtroom seats, lest there be any appearance of jury tampering. This tactic paid off, because there were no grounds for complaints about influence from members of the audience. Court supporters said they felt positive and cooperative energy from the judge, clerk, baliff, and other courtroom staff. None of the impartial members of the judicial system made The Human Solution feel unwelcome or intrusive.

The prosecutor, on the other hand, made no secret of his disdain for all the citizen witnesses wearing the green solidarity ribbon. At one point, when a member of the district attorney’s office entered the courtroom to deliver some supporting paperwork, he remarked that he, too, has groupies. For once, the prosecutor, not the defendant, appeared alone and afraid in the courtroom. A sea of green ribbons just smiled silently back at him.

After attorneys Allison Margolin and Raza Lawrence presented an affirmative defense with evidence of their client’s status as a qualified medical cannabis patient, the jury spent three days deliberating the case before exonerating the defendant. We can get some insight into their deliberation by considering the questions they asked, which include:
  • Was each and every package in the defendant’s car labeled as medical marijuana?
  • Were there enough recommendations for the amount of medicine in the car, assuming 8 ounces per collective patient member?
  • What was the chain of custody? Did the defendant verify the medical status of the person who provided the marijuana? Were there receipts for exchanges of medicine?
Other medical marijuana patients, vendors, transporters, and entrepreneurs should consider these questions carefully. If a medical marijuana label is the deciding factor for a juror considering whether you are a “patient in compliance with the law” or a “drug dealer,” shouldn’t you grab a Sharpie right now and label all of the medicine in your possession? Better yet, print some labels from your personal computer that cite CA H&S Code 11362.5 and 11362.7, and California Proposition 215.
What do we want? Justice.
When do we want it? Now!

Originally published in the Prison Outreach Press, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Fall 2011).

Photo of Allison Margolin at addressing the crowd at Willow Creek Springs provided by medicalmarijuana411.com.

Cite this article:

Lux, Jessica. "Victory At Jury Trial for LA's Dopest Attorney." Prison Outreach Press 2.2 (2011): 1,6. Print.

Women in Prison -- An American Growth Industry by Cynthia Johnston

posted Jan 28, 2013, 3:51 AM by The Editor   [ updated Feb 16, 2013, 12:30 AM ]

 However high the cost of justice,
the cost of injustice is greater still.

Who says “American Exceptionalism” is dead? Not when it comes to incarceration. Nowhere on Earth -- except the USA -- does a country put more of its citizens in prison. And, increasingly, those citizens are female.

In 1980, before the War on Drugs became big business and prison corporations were allowed to regain a toehold, there were 12,300 women incarcerated in the United States. By 2008, that number had grown to 207,700. The rate of increase between 1995 and 2008 alone was a staggering 203%. The $9 million dollars it cost to incarcerate female offenders in 1980 has now ballooned to over $68.7 billion.

Who are these women, and how did they come to be caught in the web of the prison-growth industry?

By and large, these are young women who have less than a high-school education, have a history of being battered and/or sexually abused, and, with that, a resultant history of drug abuse. They are more likely to be HIV positive or infected with Hepatitis C, have either symptoms or a diagnosis of mental illness, and prior to incarceration were unemployed. While young African American women are the fastest growing incarcerated population, roughly 49% of women in prison are white, 28% are African American, and almost 17% are Latina. More than two-thirds are incarcerated for drug, property, or public order offenses. And the vast majority are mothers of minor children.

Here’s one such story.

Oklahoma, Not OK

How do you tell your children you are going
to prison? How do you prepare for this?
~Patricia Spottedcrow

On New Year’s Eve 2009, in rural Kingfisher County, Oklahoma, Patricia Spottedcrow, a 24-year-old Cheyenne mother of four, and her mother, Delita Starr, sold a “dime bag” of marijuana out of Starr’s house for eleven dollars. Two weeks later, the person who sought them out for the first buy came back for a twenty-dollar bag. The buyer turned out to be a police informant.

Spottedcrow and Starr were charged with distribution and possession of a dangerous controlled substance in the presence of a minor, and were offered a plea deal of two years in prison. Having no priors, meaning they’d never been in trouble with the law, and having been busted for such a small amount, they turned the deal down. Both women pled guilty, thinking they’d get “community service and a slap on the wrist.”

Unfortunately, as is too often the case, it didn’t play out that way. Though it was a piddling amount of money and a first offense, in the eyes of Kingfisher County Judge Susie Pritchett, because Spottedcrow’s mother made the actual sale of the “dime bag,” and Spottedcrow’s nine-year-old son made change, Spottedcrow had involved three generations in a “criminal enterprise.” Seeking to teach her a lesson for selling thirty-one dollars’ worth of marijuana (and showing up for sentencing with traces of marijuana in a coat pocket), Judge Pritchett gave the young mother twelve years in prison -- ten years for distribution and two years for possession -- to run concurrently, with no probation. In addition, she fined Spottedcrow $4,077.89.

Starr was given a thirty-year sentence, suspended so she could care for her grandchildren. She was also saddled with five years of drug and alcohol “assessments,” plus $8,591.91 in court fees and fines. At $50 a month, she’s now paid off $600 of it. Her monthly income is $800.

Patricia Spottedcrow carries her bedroll at Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in this photo by Adam Wisneski for Tulsa World.

Believing she would be released on probation, Spottedcrow made no preparations for her incarceration. When her sentence was handed down, she was taken into custody without having a chance to say goodbye to her children, shackled, and transported three hours away to Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, where she became a minimum security prisoner at a cost to Oklahoma taxpayers of $40.43 a day -- ten dollars more per day than the total cost of marijuana sold in two separate incidents combined, and $25 more per day than it would have cost the state to provide drug treatment, were that available in Kingfisher County.

Eddie Warrior, a state-run facility that opened its doors in 1989, was built to house fifty women to a dorm, one or two to a cubicle. Just six years later it was at capacity. In the four-part documentary, Women in Prison, Eddie Warrior case manager Teri Davis states that shortly thereafter, with the facility already full, “they started hauling people in.” Now there are a hundred-and-twenty inmates to a dorm, some with serious communicable diseases, living in rows of bunks four feet apart.

“The inmates don’t like it,” says Davis. “And who would? Crammed up with another inmate in your face, coughing because she’s sick, coughing all over you . . . packed in like sardines in a can, with no amenities.”

Perhaps most disturbing about conditions at Eddie Warrior is that they are not unusual. Lurking behind the injustice of Spottedcrow’s harsh sentence is a darker story of human rights violations in America’s female prisons. In Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons, compiled and edited by Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman, female inmates speak of atrocities “ranging from forced sterilization and shackling during childbirth, to physical and sexual abuse by prison staff.” Describing their lives as harrowing and rife with misogyny, author Peggy Orenstein declares their treatment “utterly unacceptable in a country that values human rights.”

For the privilege of living in these deplorable conditions, Spottedcrow’s sentence means a burden to taxpayers of nearly $150,000 in incarceration costs alone. This is the price to an already strapped society for a person’s having sold 0.105821 ounces of an herb that is considered harmless on the one hand, and highly beneficial on the other. Multiply that by the thousands incarcerated in Oklahoma, and then multiply that by the other forty-nine states. In fact, Oklahoma attorney Josh Welch, who is working for Spottedcrow’s release, predicts that if Oklahoma continues its current practice of incarcerating “anybody who comes before a judge” for drug-related offenses, even for a first offense, “it will bankrupt the state.”

However high the cost of justice, the cost of injustice is greater still.

A Clear Case of Civil Rights Violations

I’m just a human being trying to make it in a world that is very rapidly losing its understanding of being human.
~ John Trudell, a “blue Indian”

A growing civil rights movement in Oklahoma is demanding Spottedcrow’s release. The Society to Preserve Indigenous Rights and Indigenous Traditions (SPIRIT) got involved in Spottedcrow’s case “because she is Native American, poor, and a minority,” says Brenda Golden of SPIRIT. “We are not pro-marijuana and do not advocate breaking the law. But we do believe Patricia's sentence is way too harsh for the crime she committed and is indicative of the treatment we receive in Oklahoma….  We are committed to continuing the fight to get this sentence reduced so Ms. Spottedcrow can be reunited with her four small children.”

Trial Attorney Josh Welch took her case pro bono. Calling it an “abuse of judicial authority,” he filed a motion in Kingfisher County to modify her sentence, saying, “A judge’s responsibility is to help people, not just punish them.” On Monday, October 3, Mr. Welch received an Order from Associate District Judge Robert Davis modifying Spottedcrow's sentence from the original twelve years to eight years in prison with four years’ probation. Welch says he’s happy the sentence was modified, but not happy that only four years were removed. "The new judge didn’t back off the first sentence. He said the reduction was because she had done well while incarcerated. We disagree with the sentence. She shouldn’t even be in jail.”

“This may not be easy,” Welch told SPIRIT’s Brenda Golden in an email, “but we will not stop until she's released.” Welch plans to file an Application for Post-Conviction Relief. Change.org has created a petition to the Governor of Oklahoma requesting a pardon for Spottedcrow. As of this writing, they’ve gathered almost 35,000 of the 50,000 signatures needed.

A Trail of Tears

In the Women in Prison documentary, Judge Susie Pritchett, who imposed the original sentence, states that Spottedcrow “needed to learn that there were consequences to this lifestyle she had chosen.” Tragically, and in direct opposition to the sort of outcome the judge would seem to favor, Spottedcrow’s lifestyle was indeed forever changed. Because of her conviction, she can never again pursue her chosen field. Her “chosen lifestyle” was that of a certified medical assistant employed by a nursing home. When the economy tanked, not because of any choice Spottedcrow made, she lost her job. In fact, almost half of all incarcerated women were unemployed in the month before their arrest. Spottedcrow was not the first to look for a way to make some “easy money” when things got tight. But as she conceded in an interview with Ali Meyer of Oklahoma News Channel 4, “It was a stupid mistake that I paid an awful lot for.”

Speaking of consequences, however, what about the consequences of Judge Pritchett’s actions? Seventy-five percent of incarcerated women are mothers, most of them parents of children under age eighteen. What happens when the state takes a mother away from her children for an entire decade?

Children do hard time for their parents’ crime
~ womenandprison.org

Children of female inmates are at enormous risk to continue the cycle and end up in prison themselves, according to another Women in Prison participant, Dr. Laura Pitman, Deputy Director of Female Offender Operations for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, who adds that thirty percent of the female prison population had at least one incarcerated parent themselves. African-American children are nine times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison and Hispanic children are three times more likely than white kids to have an incarcerated parent. All told, a million and a half children in America have a parent in state or federal prison, which, according to the Family and Corrections Network, “means a crisis for that child.”
The effect on Spottedcrow’s children has been devastating. Aged 1, 2, 4, and 9 at the time of her arrest, all but the eldest are unable to comprehend her disappearance. And because Spottedcrow is housed a full three-hours’ drive from her mother’s home, her family is unable to visit. As the youngest learns to talk, she knows her mother only as a voice on the phone. Meanwhile, Starr tries to explain to her grandkids. “It’s hard. The little girls do not understand why their mom’s gone…. The baby had a real hard time. We’ve spent nights crying. . . . She goes to the bedroom door and knocks: ‘Mama! Mama!’ And we cry.”

In Long Beach, California, when members of The Human Solution learned of Spottedcrow’s plight, they took up a collection and arranged for her children to receive new clothes to wear on a trip to visit their mom. In return, the Oklahoma woman who helped arrange the clothing donation made a cash contribution to The Human Solution so people would have gas money for court support. Thus, the movement to free prisoners of the drug war grows bigger and stronger.
The Two Joes: “We’ll Do This My Way”

It also grows louder. On Wednesday, November 2, 2011, angry protesters screamed in frustration outside Long Beach Courthouse, where former medical marijuana dispensary owners Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron were quickly losing ground. In preparing for their upcoming trial, Judge Charles D. Sheldon had eliminated as “irrelevant” all medical evidence. “We’ll do this my way,” he said, ruling out the two doctors who were prepared to testify that the Joes were, at the very least, qualified medical-marijuana patients. Having already been denied the right to defend themselves as legally compliant dispensary owners, the Joes had retreated to their fall-back position -- that of being patients first. But with his latest decision, Judge Sheldon had taken that away, too.

Protesters claimed the judge had denied the Joes their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. In two previous California medical-marijuana cases, defendants had been allowed an affirmative defense, meaning they were able to tell the jury they were legally compliant dispensary owners, as well as qualified medical-marijuana patients. In one such case, the defendant was found not guilty. In the other, the case was dismissed "in the interest of justice." Not so for the Joes.

Kangaroo Court

Like Patricia Spottedcrow, Grumbine and Byron have turned down plea deals, choosing instead to exercise their right to a jury trial. Motivated by the same do-good instincts that led them to create a medical-marijuana collective in the first place, they put their fate in the hands of a jury for the sake of all medical-marijuana patients and caregivers. They hoped to solidify the legal standing of their fellow patients and dispensary owners, along with their own, in a precedent-setting case. They thought the jury would hear all the facts. They were wrong. Instead, says Grumbine, it’s “a steamroller to conviction.”

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
~ Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth”

At a November 9 hearing -- their twenty-second court appearance -- the Two Joes suffered yet another defeat. Having filed a motion to quash the warrant that triggered a massive tri-county raid and turned their lives upside down, Grumbine and Byron had to appear before Judge Judith L. Meyer, who signed the original warrant. She denied the motion. After opining that the medical-marijuana-dispensary thing “is all a sham,” Judge Meyer reminded the defendants that their next court date with Judge Sheldon was on November 23 "in Department K, as in Kangaroo.” To quote Dr. Hunter S. Thompson out of context once again, “Jesus! How much more of this cheap-jack bullshit can we be expected to take?” Kangaroo court, indeed.

Don’t get out of jury duty, get into it!

Grumbine and Byron have only one defense left: the defense of last resort – Jury Nullification. Simply put, Jury Nullification (or “Juror Nullification”)  means a juror has the power – nay, the awesome responsibility – to refuse to convict if they believe the law is corrupt or the proceedings have been compromised. The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) was created to inform American citizens that “juror veto – juror nullification – is a peaceful way to protect human rights against corrupt politicians and government tyranny.” With thousands of people in the street, and Occupy Wall Street demonstrators getting arrested in droves for rising up against government tyranny and abuse of power, the time for J-Null may have come.

Jurors Can Stop Government Tyranny by Refusing to Convict

As a juror, your first and greatest duty is to your fellow citizen. While jury duty may sometimes require you to punish a fellow citizen for breaking the law, it may also, at times, require you to protect your fellow citizen from tyrannical abuses of power by government officials.

Jury convictions, right or wrong, just or unjust, are almost never overturned. In a recent case in Georgia, Troy Davis was executed even after many jurors, upon hearing new evidence, tried to take back their guilty verdict. Imagine having to live with the knowledge that you sent a man to his death, based on insufficient or false evidence. In the case of Grumbine and Byron, there was no victim. Both defendants were motivated by a desire to help end suffering by providing patients legal access to a plant that helps and heals. For this, each now faces up to seven years in the slammer.

“Jurors cannot be required to check their conscience at the courthouse door,” says FIJA. Rather, they are empowered to use it in court, with absolutely no fear of retribution. So, in the future, don’t get out of jury duty, get into it. The life you save could be Joe Grumbine’s.

We’ll take a closer look at Jury Nullification in an upcoming post. In the meantime, FIJA has created a Juror’s Handbook to help inform potential jurors of their legal authority to refuse to enforce corrupt laws. “Short of being elected to office yourself,” says FIJA, “you may never otherwise have a more powerful impact on the rules we live by than you will as a trial juror.”


In 1995 Cynthia Johnston directed public relations for an online publication, Sources eJournal, covering intelligence, espionage and terrorism. There, she wrote a three-part series, “Confessions of a CIA Brat.” She also wrote a business column, “In the Loop,” for an independent filmmaking web publication and several pieces for Bay Area computer magazine Micro Times. After Sources went down in the dot.com crash of the late Nineties, she took a leap of faith, moved into a funky cab-over camper, and started living curbside on the streets of San Francisco. She began her first blog before blogging was a word. Her online journal earned her the opportunity to write a piece, “Mobile Homeless,” for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s been blogging ever since.
Johnston began writing about her experience as a medical marijuana patient as soon as she “got legal.” She went public on behalf of legalization in 1980 with the California Marijuana Initiative and a headline: “Marijuana Protester Busted at High Noon.”


Originally published November 18, 2011 at unitedstatesvmarijuana.blogspot.com

Prisoners -- America's New Cash Crop by Cynthia Johnston

posted Jan 28, 2013, 3:11 AM by The Editor   [ updated Feb 15, 2013, 3:39 PM ]

A disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.
~ Hannah Arendt

At the 2011 dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, many speakers, including President Obama, quoted from King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which King eloquently spoke out for freedom and justice. Yet almost fifty years later King’s son, Martin Luther King III, says his father’s dream has not been realized, that America has “lost its soul,” in part by “having more people of color in prison than in college.” He is not wrong. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, in the last decade nearly one in three African-American men aged 20-29 was under criminal-justice supervision, while more than two out of five had been incarcerated.

At his 1963 March on Washington Dr. King said, “We have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.” And so we have. Because today, with for-profit prisons a burgeoning growth industry, the incarceration rate of people of color can be extrapolated to the population at large. Indeed, one out of every one hundred adults in America today is incarcerated, and one out of every thirty-two is somewhere in the system – either on probation, on parole, or behind bars. Put another way, the United States has five percent of the world’s population and twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. And more than half of these arrests are for marijuana.

The FBI puts the number of marijuana arrests over the last decade alone at 7.9 million. This was not caused by the laws of supply-and-demand for weed. This was caused by the laws of supply-and-demand for prisoners and, hence, for profits. Since 1984, when privatization of prisons was made legal again, after having been stamped out in 1928 due to gross abuses against prisoners in the name of profit, the for-profit prison industry has moved quickly to expand into as many states as possible before enough resistance could be amassed to stop them. And with each new prison constructed, there is a need for more prisoners to fill it.

In the intervening years, lobbyists for the corporate, for-profit prison industry have spent millions of dollars per year writing laws and implementing strategies to put people in prison for as long as possible. The harsher the policies and the longer the sentences, the more money flows into these corporations from the government. And nothing grows the prison population better than the War on Drugs -- a war funded by taxpayers, some of whom are later fed into the machine, including those you’ve met, and others you will meet, in these pages.

Big Money Machine

Back in my political days there was a running joke in Washington: the “building trade” unions would build their own prison camps for the jobs. Not so funny any more, given that California’s prison guard union -- the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, or CCPOA -- was a driving force behind California’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law, a law that requires a mandatory 25-years-to-life sentence for a third “similar” felony, even if that felony is shoplifting.

Three Strikes is one of a systematic web of laws designed to incarcerate the maximum number of people for the longest possible time; a web of laws that creates a self-perpetuating money machine for its creators – a cabal of corporations and lawmakers with the shared goal of growing America’s prison population for profit; a web of laws written by special interests and introduced by the legislators they have bought with campaign contributions. Just one small example of the way our democratic system of government has been hijacked by the corporate thugs, greed-heads and fixers of America’s sprawling prison cartel.

Former Navy journalist and “conserva-tarian” co-founder of All American Blogger, Duane Lester reports that in only three decades CCPOA has become one of the most powerful political forces in California. In an article published by FreeRepublic.com, he wrote that the union has contributed millions of dollars to support Three Strikes and other laws that lengthen sentences and increase parole sanctions (the sentences imposed when a parolee violates the terms of parole). After then-governor Pete Wilson backed Three Strikes, the prison-guard union donated a cool million to his campaign.

Don’t Look For The Union Label

On a much more insidious scale, a right-wing lobby group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), writes ‘model bills’ (legislation to be enacted in one state and replicated in others, also known as ‘copy-cat laws’) for corporate sponsors like Koch Industries, Exxon Mobile, BP, American Bail Coalition, R.J. Reynolds, Wal-Mart, Phillip Morris, Pfizer, AT&T, and Glaxo Smith Kline, to name a few – including bills specifically designed to exploit cheap prison labor on behalf of profit-making corporations.

Writing for thenation.com, labor journalist Mike Elk and blogger Bob Sloan detail ALEC's “instrumental role in the explosion of the US prison population in the past few decades,” explaining how ALEC pioneered some of the toughest sentencing laws on the books today – mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders, Three Strikes laws, and so-called truth-in-sentencing laws, which require violent offenders to serve 85% of their sentences before being considered for release. After ensuring that more prisoners would be incarcerated for longer and longer periods, ALEC then “paved the way for states and corporations to replace unionized workers with prison labor.”

The “convict lease program,” instituted in the South after the Civil War, was the precursor to today’s for-profit prison industry. The then-governor of Mississippi imprisoned freed slaves and then leased them out to a private party who could work them to death, and often did, with no pay. It took churches, families, and civil libertarians sixty years to wipe these laws off the books and the Reagan Administration no time at all to bring them back.

Only a lobby funded by profit-driven corporations would replace preexisting laws with legislation like the Prison Industries Act, allowing “the employment of inmate labor in state correctional institutions and in the private manufacturing of certain products.” A federal program called PIE (Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program) conveniently certifies prison work programs for exemption from federal restrictions on prisoner-made goods in interstate commerce.

Prison labor for private profit was illegal before ALEC came along. Now the lobbyists have instituted two federal programs to regulate and certify prison labor. Just goes to show what money can buy.

In Florida, an outfit calling itself  PRIDE (Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises) now runs forty work programs where inmates manufacture “tons of processed beef, chicken and pork,” as well as office furniture and other commercial items – for twenty cents an hour.
Aside from the obvious slave labor issue, here’s another concept for you: the intersection of processed meat with prison hygiene. I’ve heard the stories about prison conditions -- a hundred-and-twenty to two-hundred inmates in gym-sized rooms; fifty or more sharing a single filthy toilet, without privacy or sanitation. “Some guys just shit in the shower,” said a friend who spent a few eye-opening nights at L.A.’s Twin Towers. And these guys are processing tons of meat that wind up, among other places, in school lunches.

Granted, prison laborers featured on a recent exposé on CNBC, entitled “Billions Behind Bars,” worked in facilities outside the prison, and wore gloves. But that was a single example in Colorado – a 6,000-acre complex with fifty businesses, including a goat farm and a fish farm, staffed by inmates. Colorado Correctional Industries, a division of the state Department of Corrections, which runs the complex, is on “a mission to save taxpayers’ money while helping to rehabilitate Colorado’s inmates.” Perhaps. They also happen to garner $56 million per year in revenue. But elsewhere, and for twenty cents an hour, how motivated could long-term prisoners be to maintain pristine job-site sanitation standards? Especially when they work under threat of punishment if they refuse to work?

In a 2007 letter to prisonersolidarity.org, an inmate wrote that he and other prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary had been trying for seventeen months to call attention to inhumane conditions such as “broken toilets that leak profusely, the urinals that overflow onto our feet, and the lack of ventilation that results in fumes and condensation that are unbearable at times.” Even if they are transported elsewhere to work, how clean can they be? Yet, these are the living conditions many inmates endure. Conditions bad enough to cause one man to commit suicide at Dickens County Correctional Center in Spur, Texas – a prison run by the for-profit prison company, GEO Group, Inc.

How could GEO, or any corporation, justify making people live in such deplorable conditions? Because it’s cheaper, according to the inmates’ rights group Partnership for Safety and Justice in Portland, Oregon. In an msnbc.com article entitled "Suicide Reveals Squalid Prison Conditions," the organization’s program director, Caylor Rolling stated, “they cut corners because the bottom line is making money.”

Papers, Please

Los Angeles Times Headlines on Jail Abuse | Photo by Cynthia Johnston
Another way for-profit prisons make millions of dollars is by detaining immigrants. The  Department of Homeland Security pays local, county and state prisons up to $200 per person per day to house “apprehended aliens,” reports The Huffington Post. Singling out another Los Angeles County horror show, HuffPost’s Gabriel Lerner says California’s prisons in particular “benefit from the largesse of the federal government and vie for a piece” of this profitable pie. He cited a detention center in Lancaster, run by L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, currently under federal investigation for prisoner abuse throughout the system, where immigrants rounded up in raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) were held for more than two years instead of the customary few days. According to a group of Latino filmmakers and “instigators” called Cuéntame (meaning both “count me” and “tell me your story,”) it doesn’t even matter whether these immigrants are documented or undocumented, “as long as they fill the detention facilities for days, months or even years.”

In the old days of publicly run prisons, it paid to let a prisoner go when his time was up or his rights were about to be violated. Not only was it the right thing to do, it saved the public money. And therein lies the rub.

In voters’ minds, the chief attraction of private, for-profit prisons is that they’re thought to save taxpayer dollars. Not so. In fact, just as health-care costs ballooned when corporations got in the game and began charging fifteen dollars per box of tissues -- as if a patient in a hospital bed were raiding the mini-bar in a luxe hotel rather than receiving medical care -- so have prison costs increased by virtue of the profit incentive of private-prison corporations. And where do their profits come from? Some come through the newly-legalized exploitation of the prisoners themselves, but the bulk come from you, the taxpayer. When prisoners, a public commodity, are managed by a private institution, the public pays. We are not creating savings. We are creating more prisoners and, these days, turning incarcerated human beings into corporate assets. Why would a private prison want to see a prisoner released if with him goes a piece of their income?

To find the really heavy hitters in the game of jailing undocumented immigrants for fun and profit, we must go to Arizona, where Republican State Senator Russell Pearce teamed up with ALEC and another for-profit prison company, Correction Corps of America (CCA), to create Senate Bill 1070, Arizona’s notorious “Papers, Please” anti-immigrant bill. Courtesy of SB 1070, local detention facilities rake in $200 per inmate per day ($6,000 a month, or $72,000 a year). According to “Immigrants for Sale,” Cuéntame’s shattering exposé, “these private prisons have spent over $20 million lobbying state legislators to make sure they get state anti-immigrant laws approved,” thus securing an endless supply of immigrant inmates. Replicated in Utah, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee and Iowa, ALEC and CCA have built themselves a “perfect money machine.”

Corporate Corrections Companies

Meet some of the players in the new, for-profit prison industry. Correction Corps of America (CCA), headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, touts itself as “America’s Leader in Partnership Corrections.” CCA designs, builds, manages and operates correctional facilities and detention centers for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Marshall Service, a couple dozen states, and nearly a dozen counties across the USA. CCA pocketed $2.9 billion in 2010.

Management Training Corporation (MTC), headquartered in Centerville, Utah, with branches in Texas, Georgia, and Washington, D.C., operates twenty correctional facilities in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas. They have the capacity to “secure and train 25,310 offenders and detainees at federal and state correctional facilities across the United States.”

Formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections,  GEO Group, Inc., of Boca Raton, Florida, manages and/or owns 116 correctional, detention and residential treatment facilities, boasting some 80,000 beds. GEO ran the Texas prison where the previously mentioned suicide took place. Among the many services GEO provides are Secure Prisoner Escort and Secure Detainee Transportation. Since its inception in 2008, GEO has transported over 200,000 prisoners and detainees by land and air.

Among the three of them, these for-profit prison companies own over two hundred facilities with 150,000 bed-spaces, cranking out a tidy five billion dollars a year in profit.

A perfect money machine, indeed -- but only if the system keeps them supplied with prisoners. And how does it do that, besides detaining defenseless immigrants? By feeding more and more marijuana and medical-marijuana users into their giant corporate maw.

War on (Wonder) Drugs

It’s worth repeating here that cannabis was only outlawed in the first place as an accommodation to corporate interests. There was no moral imperative to make it illegal, nor is there one today. It doesn’t kill people, the way alcohol and tobacco do. According to Lester Grinspoon, M.D., Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who has studied it extensively, cannabis is safer than aspirin! To quote him directly, “Compared to aspirin, which people are free to purchase and use without the advice or prescription of a physician, cannabis is much safer: there are well over 1000 deaths annually from aspirin in this country alone, whereas there has never been a death anywhere from marijuana.” He went on to say that “it will eventually be hailed as a ‘wonder drug’ just as penicillin was in the 1940s.”

Yet the practice of jailing people for growing, transporting, buying, selling or possessing marijuana, and locking them up for longer and longer periods of time, continues. In Louisiana this year, 35-year-old Cornell Hood II was sentenced to prison for life for having been caught four times for possession and/or distribution of a substance more innocent than aspirin and with fewer side effects than any pharmaceutical painkiller on the market. In Oklahoma, Patricia Spottedcrow, whose case we examine in an upcoming post, was sentenced to prison for ten years for having sold $31 worth of marijuana. Ten years. Second degree felony assault, in which a person bludgeons another person with a deadly weapon, causing severe bodily injury, carries five years. Yet you can sell a few “dime bags” of weed and get locked up for a decade, even when you have no prior arrests and four young children at home depending on you.

Just as the for-profit health-care industry relies on sick people for profits, and thus has an interest in keeping them sick, the for-profit prison industry relies on prisoners for profits, and thus has an interest in keeping them incarcerated. And though a recent Gallup poll  shows that fully fifty percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana and another seventy percent favor allowing doctors to prescribe it, the fight will really heat up when all those who profit from the War on Drugs mobilize their efforts against legalization.

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
~ Bob Dylan, “Masters of War”

No Defense for Grumbine and Byron

Meanwhile, back in Long Beach, California, Judge Charles D. Sheldon on September 22, 2011, denied Joe Grumbine and his former partner Joe Byron an affirmative (medical marijuana) defense against the felony charges they face for operating two legally compliant medical marijuana collectives. Consequently, the jury who decides their fate will not hear a single word about their activities in providing medical marijuana to patients with a legitimate prescription. The two Joes will be presented as ordinary street-level drug pushers. In a political climate where state and federal law enforcement agencies are targeting dispensaries and their landlords in an apparent effort to wipe out medical marijuana dispensaries entirely, this is very bad news for the Joes. If convicted, each will face at least seven years in state prison.

At a pre-trial hearing on October 12, Judge Sheldon asked for a list of defense witnesses. Attorney Chris Glew, representing Joe Grumbine, told the judge that, because his client had been deprived of a defense, he had no witnesses. Incredulous, the judge repeated his request. Glew repeated the same answer. Commenting that he’d set aside time for a month-long trial, Judge Sheldon expressed reluctance to forfeit taxpayer dollars on a trial that would be considerably shorter than he’d expected. “We didn’t accomplish very much today,” he groused, and continued the hearing until November 2.

Citizen Outrage Grows

Outraged over “juror abuse,” a growing coalition of medical marijuana patients and advocates gathered outside the courthouse to protest the judge’s ruling. They claim that by denying the Joes an affirmative defense, Judge Sheldon is denying the jury the ability to return a fair verdict based on the facts. “A juror can not take back a guilty verdict,” said one of the protesters, citing the recent execution of Troy Davis in Texas. In similar cases across the country, countless jurors are forced to live with the pain of having returned guilty verdicts based on insufficient or false evidence. Along with the defendant, the juror pays the price for this abuse of judicial authority.

How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool's hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game
 ~ Bob Dylan, “Hurricane”

The next court date is set for Wednesday, November 2, 2011, at the Long Beach Courthouse. There will be a rally outside the courthouse at 8:00 AM. Court Support meets at 8:30 AM in Room 508. The trial begins on November 28.

Those wishing to join the rallies, participate in court support, or donate to Grumbine’s and Byron’s legal defense can do so at The Human Solution or phone 951-436-6312 for additional details.


In 1995 Cynthia Johnston directed public relations for an online publication, Sources eJournal, covering intelligence, espionage and terrorism. There, she wrote a three-part series, “Confessions of a CIA Brat.” She also wrote a business column, “In the Loop,” for an independent filmmaking web publication and several pieces for Bay Area computer magazine Micro Times. After Sources went down in the dot.com crash of the late Nineties, she took a leap of faith, moved into a funky cab-over camper, and started living curbside on the streets of San Francisco. She began her first blog before blogging was a word. Her online journal earned her the opportunity to write a piece, “Mobile Homeless,” for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s been blogging ever since.
Johnston began writing about her experience as a medical marijuana patient as soon as she “got legal.” She went public on behalf of legalization in 1980 with the California Marijuana Initiative and a headline: “Marijuana Protester Busted at High Noon.”


Originally published October 1, 2011 at unitedstatesvmarijuana.blogspot.com

Court Support Now by Joe Grumbine

posted Jan 28, 2013, 2:50 AM by The Editor   [ updated Feb 19, 2013, 5:27 AM ]

Westminister Court Support with The Human Solution, Spring 2011
At a time when everybody is distracted by mere survival, it’s hard to imagine you can change the world.

In fact, the easiest and most powerful thing you can do as an activist is show up in court. By just showing up to bear witness, you empower the defendant, you hold the judge accountable, you give the defense attorneys a chance to shine and you knock the prosecutor off his game. All that can add up to the magic words:  “Not guilty.”

Or, “In the interest of justice, case dismissed.”

I know. I’ve seen it happen.

I’ve seen a man’s anguish turn to resolve at the sight of twenty people wearing solidarity ribbons show up at his trial. I saw him take the stand and speak with confidence as he testified on his own behalf. I watched his lawyer stand a little taller.  

I’ve seen a prosecutor clench his jaw repeatedly and drop his head into his hands in frustration. I’ve seen a prosecutor beg the judge to make the ribbons go away. It felt pretty good to watch the judge say they could stay.

I’ve seen people who never met before bond as lifelong friends over cafeteria lunches, or ride-sharing, or straining forward on a hard wooden bench to try to hear what the prosecutor was saying. I’ve seen fellowship and camaraderie develop around trying understand the unfamiliar and intimidating language of the courtroom.

Mascot Buddy by POW Paul Shaw
A Day in the Life of a Court Supporter

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head…

The court support experience seems unremarkable at a glance. It’s not high drama. It’s just doing a job that needs doing.

It starts with a decision to take action. I set a day aside to do something for the cause. I wake up at 6 o’clock. I get dressed in my Sunday Best and pick up four or five friends. We grab a cup of coffee and we drive. And we drive. In the car we talk about the case. Arriving at court, we begin to spot familiar faces and the welcome sight of the green solidarity ribbons. Walking up the steps, one by one. Standing in the security line, a few more. I know I’m not alone.

Going through security, the bailiff always asks, What’s the ribbon for? I say, I’m here to support medical marijuana patients and defendants in court. It’s always a friendly exchange. Everywhere I go, somebody asks about the ribbon and I get a chance to educate another citizen.

Educating Citizens is Educating the Jury Pool

The jury needs to know how much power they have. A jury has the power to do the right thing. Just one juror has the power to do the right thing. Every juror has the power to vote his or her conscience. The ultimate power is in the hands of the jury. A jury has the right to overturn a law without fear of repercussion.

Court support also serves to remind a jury that they have the power to overturn a law – any law – no matter what the judge tells them about having to follow it. It’s called “jury nullification.” Jury nullification has its roots in fugitive slave laws and occurs when a jury refuses to convict a defendant charged with a crime under a “bad law.”

If enough juries acquit, they can overturn the law itself.

It only takes one juror.

Are you the one?

Court support is spreading across the nation.

If every cannabis case had an overflowing courtroom, prohibition would be over.

Suit up, show up, shut up, turn your cell phone off and... you too can change the world.

Originally published in the Prison Outreach Press, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Fall 2011).  Author Joe Grumbine is the founder of The Human Solution.

Cite this article:

Grumbine, Joe. "Court Support Now." Prison Outreach Press 2.2 (2011): 1,3. Print.

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