Leukaemia and Cannabis Oil: The Story of the Late Ronnie Smith

 

 

Above:  right to left Brian McCullough, Cher Ford McCullough, Richard Rawlings, Heidi Drake and Ronnie Smith aka Roland A Duby, taken at Reefer Rumble in Cincinnati circa 2001

 

One of the all-stars of the cannabis counter culture, Ronnie Lee Smith ranks right up there with Rick Simpson, Jack Herer, and many others. Ronnie, at the age of 47 regretfully passed away in Colorado, on April 3rd 2014. The cause of death is said to be complications from leukaemia.

That’s why Ronnie’s case is particularly important. That’s because Ronnie died of a disease for which he has supposedly treated others in similar situations. Ronnie, with his rocket-scientist in-the-rough intellect, was as familiar to You Tube viewers as Rick Simpson.

I watched several of his videos months earlier. He was the go-to person when a patient needed help in either obtaining Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), or getting safe, reliable advice for their condition. He was also a professional comedian and a radio-show host. He was as compassionate as he was generous.

If you had a cancer and needed RSO, he would provide it at no charge. The true sign of selflessness is giving. He certainly gave and claims to have treated hundreds of patients over the years. He even ran for sheriff in 2010 in Gallatin County Kentucky; indicating that if elected, he would provide free, on demand, cannabis oil to anyone in the county who needed it.

Yet, everyone is asking the same question. If cannabis helps treat leukaemia, why did it fail to treat Ronnie, one of the most ardent supporters of health freedom using cannabis and other alternative strategies in America?

As we know, some families seem particularly prone to cancers of many types. In Ronnie’s family cancer was running wild; his brother Lester died of lymphoma in 2003, his mother died of brain cancer—metastatic from decades of smoking and the development of stage IV lung cancer—which had spread to her brain, three days after his brother died. A couple of years after that, his father died of prostate cancer. Had any of them tried cannabis oil? It did not appear to help, if they had tried it. Which is very disappointing to say the least. But I’m only guessing since there are no further details.

It would be of great benefit to know. I personally am trying to gather a database on the efficacy of marijuana in treating cancers but the existing data is so meagre and disorganized that, for the time being, I cannot make a determination. Those that make wild claims of treating cancers, especially those that actually run dispensaries or “clinics” like the ones located in the Bay Area of California, here in the US, are not willing to share their stories save for a few cases that end up on the internet. They say that they have treated hundreds of end stage cancer victims. If so, please provide the proof we need. Reveal these cases so that others may learn of these treatments. Being secretive does not help our cause.

Ronnie Lee Smith was born on August 20, 1966 at the old St. Elizabeth North Hospital in Covington, Kentucky.

Ronnie and Rick Simpson met around 2006. In 2007, Jack Herer enlisted Ronnie’s formidable brain in editing his now classic forthcoming book The Emperor Wears No Clothes. It was around this time when something odd happened.

After Jack and Ronnie became friends, Ronnie would help out making bubble hash with trimmings from Jack’s grow operation. It was then that Ronnie Lee Smith had discovered cancerous lumps “in between each knuckle”, and “a lump hanging out of my rear.” He next describes an astonishing event. Ronnie continues:

“While making the hash I would eat a spoonful on occasion, and I did that four or five times a day for a couple months. I noticed after a month that the lumps between my knuckles got softer and after 2 months, they were gone. Jack said that he wrote in his book about a college study where they killed cancer in rats with THC in the 70’s. His wife Googled the article and in the search, she found Rick Simpson and the story about the oil. This was 2006, and we called Rick, and Rick turned out to be a big fan of Jacks, so Jack had him on the Jack Herer TV show every week. Rick said he needed someone in America to make oil and I volunteered. He sent me referrals for 3 years before he got stuck in Europe. By 2010, I had cured over 200 people. I decided to run for Sheriff and make the cure available for free to anyone in my county. Ronnie Lee Smith co-starred in the hemp documentary about Jack Herer called [[The Emperor Wears No Clothes]], which was based on his popular book.”

At this point it appears that Ronnie’s leukaemia was in remission. From discovering the nodules between his knuckles in 2006 to the year 2010 he was doing great. By his own admission he had treated over 200 people by then.

Note, before we go any further, that Ronnie had initially used bubble hash which does not involve cooking or the use of heat. Therefore, Ronnie’s initial treatment stemmed from using the carboxylated (the acid) form of THC, CBD and the remaining cannabinoids. This is in sharp contrast to RSO which is a cooked formula and therefore de-carboxylated, and presumably the most powerful variation to take for medical conditions.

In other words, these are very different oils, yet they may possess similar powerful effects. There is continuing debate on the use of acidic forms such as fresh-squeezed marijuana and hashish (eaten) versus the decarboxylated RSO-type preparations. They both seem to have potent curative properties but many insist that cancers be treated with RSO analogues. Most of what I have written about involves RSO or RSO-like essential oils.

So what went wrong? Let’s examine what took place in the months preceding his premature demise.

On April 24, 2013, while driving through Yavapai County, Arizona, Ronnie was pulled over, searched, and arrested for possession of marijuana. The Arizona State Patrol found 2 ounces of marijuana in the trunk of Ronnie’s car, plus cannabis oil (Phoenix Tears AKA RSO). It was during a protracted jail sentence that he was not able to use RSO and this ultimately may have led to his death. Sometime between April and June of 2013, while Ronnie was in the Yavapai County Jail for over 3 months, the State of Arizona never allowed Ronnie to take his medical marijuana to prevent his leukaemia from regenerating.

On February 25, 2014, during a Bobby Pickles podcast, Ronnie Lee Smith explained how his cancer regenerated while he was in the Arizona jail. “I got arrested in Arizona and went to jail for my medical marijuana, which I told the cop was for cancer. So I was in jail for 3 months and developed hardcore leukaemia while I was in there, and then they had rushed me to Emergency Room and got me a [blood] transfusion. That was the only way I got out of jail, because they released me because I was dying and they didn’t want to pay the hospital bill.” … “They finally had to rush me to the hospital for a blood transfusion where they diagnosed me with leukaemia and said I would be dead in 2 weeks.”

As I have written previously some forms of leukaemia appear to be treatable using cannabis oil. The acute leukaemia being more difficult while the chronic forms and the paediatric leukaemia are the easiest to put into remission.

Do not underestimate the power of stress to induce illness or to reverse remissions in cancers. It’s the one problem that most people do not emphasize enough. Stress kills. Here’s a man with a deadly leukaemia which he had been able to keep in remission for at least six years. Now take away his medication and throw him into probably the unhealthiest, stressful, squalid condition possible and watch your cancer grow.

Prison food is notoriously unhealthy. Lacking in micro-nutrients, high in pesticide residues, high in sugars and carbohydrate—the preferred food for cancer cells to grow, and lacking in living nutrients. It’s not too much of a leap to suggest that three months of processed junk food contributed to decreasing his immunity. Add to that lack of sunlight exposure. Vitamin D is a potent anti-cancer hormone.

What I find astonishing is how law enforcement withheld his medication in a medical marijuana state. They knew that it could lead to a regrowth of his cancer and an early demise, yet did nothing.
Lastly there is some speculation that some of the last cannabis oil Ronnie took may have been tainted. Ronnie’s ex-wife presumably had some analysed but there is no further information.

Dr. Christopher Rasmussen

Dr. Christopher Rasmussen

Dr. Christopher Rasmussen MD,MS, an anesthesiologist with a Master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine, is a professor, lecturer, seminar provider, and world authority on preventive medicine. For more information on preventive medicine see http://www.inflaNATION.com.

CONTINUE READING…

Barry Lambert: "Bad laws deserve to be broken. I am fully supportive. It is the right thing to do."

"Bad laws deserve to be broken. I am fully supportive. It is the right thing to do," says Barry Lambert of campaigning ... 

 

Barry Lambert is gazing out the picture window of his Sydney home at a multimillion-dollar beach view. Around him his grandchildren fiddle on their phones while his wife Joy sips tea. Lambert drinks a cappuccino he’s just bought at the local café. It’s a charming family scene – except for one thing. At the table beside him, his son Michael is committing a crime that carries a sentence of up to two years’ jail.

Michael, 44, takes out a tube that says “Hemp Oil 20 per cent CBD”, squeezes it and smears the brown paste onto a corn chip which he then gives to his daughter Katelyn, who is draped sleepily on her mother Saowalak’s lap. Katelyn, Lambert’s four-year-old granddaughter, wakes briefly and chews on the chip.

The oil is an extract of cannabis, a substance prohibited under the NSW Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act of 1985. It is being used to treat a dangerous form of childhood epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, although there is as yet little hard evidence to prove its effectiveness.

Asked how he feels about the use of an illegal cannabis product to treat Katelyn, the 70-year-old Lambert, who has sat quietly as his family squawks and scraps around him, pauses a little awkwardly before answering softly but firmly.

“Bad laws deserve to be broken. I am fully supportive. It is the right thing to do.”

Until last year Barry Lambert was known in Australian business circles chiefly for his success in building Count Financial, a chain of accounting and financial planning shopfronts that he started 35 years ago and eventually sold to the Commonwealth Bank for more than $373 million. That 2011 sale landed him a spot on the BRW Rich 200, where he was ranked the 156th wealthiest Australian last year.

So it was a surprise when Lambert publicly associated himself with the cause of medicinal cannabis. With little warning, he gave a press conference in August at which he announced that he and his family would donate $34 million to the University of Sydney for what is called the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics.

Lambert’s mind-boggling donation has put him at the crossroads of some of the most difficult issues in health, ethics and business. Suffering families welcomed the boost he has given to research that could benefit thousands, if not millions, of sick people. Police and conservative politicians, however, worry that medicinal cannabis will be a Trojan horse for legalisation of recreational drugs and quack therapies. There are also doctors who will not recommend medicinal cannabis given its still unproven benefits.

Ingrid Scheffer, professor at Melbourne University and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, is one of them. The world expert in paediatric neurology, to whom the Lamberts turned for advice, says cannabis is potentially beneficial in some cases but has been hyped. “It is not a silver bullet.” She says she is not yet able to recommend it because so far there is no hard scientific evidence of its benefits in treating epilepsy, although she is optimistic that proper clinical trials will give an answer in the very near future.

“It worries me how often I don’t get asked about the risks of medicinal cannabis,” says Professor Scheffer. “There is good data showing a link between cannabis and psychosis and we know there are people we see through our adult epilepsy program whose epilepsy won’t come under control until they stop taking cannabis. We need to weigh up the risks and benefits but I think that medicinal cannabis will have a place in the treatment of epilepsy in the near future.”

Read more: http://www.afr.com/brand/afr-magazine/why-millionaire-barry-lambert-invested-34-million-in-medicinal-cannabis-20160313-gni315#ixzz47EFdeRZj
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693,482 individuals in the United States were arrested in 2013 and charged with marijuana violations

Why legalizing marijuana will be much harder than you think

 

 

By Erwin Chemerinsky April 27

Each week, In Theory takes on a big idea in the news and explores it from a range of perspectives. This week, we’re talking about drug scheduling. Need a primer? Catch up here.

Erwin Chemerinsky is dean and distinguished professor of law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law

There are rumors that the federal government may soon lift its ban on marijuana, but that wouldn’t end marijuana prohibitions in the United States. This incongruity is the result of federalism: the ability of each jurisdiction — the federal government and every state — to maintain its own laws as to which drugs are illegal and which are not.

Completely legalizing marijuana in the United States would require the actions of both the federal government and every state government. If the federal government repealed its criminal prohibition of marijuana or rescheduled the drug under federal law, that would not change state laws that forbid its possession or sale. Likewise, state governments can repeal their marijuana laws, in whole or in part, but that does not change federal law.

[The paradox at the heart of our marijuana laws — and how to fix it]

When Colorado and Washington legalized the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, questions arose as to how this would interact with federal law. Specifically, the question was whether such state efforts are preempted by the federal law, which still prohibits marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin and cocaine.

The answer is clear: States can have whatever laws they want with regard to marijuana or any other drug. No state is required to have a law prohibiting or regulating marijuana. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that Congress cannot force states to enact laws; such coercion violates the 10th Amendment. A state could choose to have no law prohibiting marijuana, or a law prohibiting marijuana with an exception for medical use, or a law allowing possession of small amounts of marijuana, or anything else. In fact, across the United States today, this is exactly the situation — many states have very different laws concerning marijuana.

Similarly, if the federal government were to repeal the prohibition of marijuana or reschedule it under the Controlled Substances Act, that would not change state laws. States still could prohibit and punish the sale and possession of marijuana under state criminal statutes.

Contrary to what many believe, marijuana laws continue to be enforced by both states and the federal government. According to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 693,482 individuals in the United States were arrested in 2013 and charged with marijuana violations. Of these, 609,423 — or 88 percent — were arrested for simple possession. There is an enormous cost in terms of law enforcement resources, the criminal justice system and people’s lives for marijuana to remain illegal. Even for those arrested and never prosecuted or convicted, arrest records have real harms in terms of the ability to get jobs, loans, housing and benefits.

Like all drug laws, the prohibition against marijuana is much more likely to be enforced against African Americans and Latinos than against whites. According to a 2013 study, whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the same rates, but blacks are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana.

[Legal marijuana is finally doing what the drug war couldn’t]

In Theory newsletter

Emerging ideas and arguments behind the news.

Yet there is little benefit to illegality. The primary argument for keeping marijuana illegal is that it is harmful. But as President Obama observed, pot is no “more dangerous than alcohol.” Many things are harmful — cigarettes, foods high in sugar and salt and cholesterol — but that does not mean that they should be illegal. In fact, there is a good deal of evidence that marijuana is significantly less harmful than tobacco or alcohol and that it has benefits in treating some medical conditions such as glaucoma and seizure disorders, and alleviating some of the ill effects of chemotherapy. That is why 24 states and the District allow medical use of marijuana.

Like the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, the prohibition of marijuana has been a failure. The drug is readily available and it is estimated that 30 million Americans used it in the past year. And similar to the prohibition of alcohol, it is a costly failure. In addition to the cost in enforcing the criminal laws, there is the loss of significant revenue that could be gained from taxation and legalization.

It is a question of when, not whether, marijuana becomes legal in the United States. A study by the Pew Research Center last year found that a majority of Americans now favor legalization and only 44 percent believe it should be illegal. Of those under 35 years old, 68 percent believe that marijuana should be legal. But there is no doubt that the confusion federalism entails will make legalizing marijuana much more difficult.

Explore these other perspectives:

Keith Humphreys: The paradox at the heart of our marijuana laws — and how to fix it

CONTINUE READING…

After Fighting for Freedom, 76-yo Vet Sentenced to Die In Prison for Treating His Illness With Pot

 

 

Claire Bernish April 21, 2016

As public frustration helps sound the death knell for the drug war, its arbitrary laws and policies appear even more absurd. In the latest inexcusable enforcement of an antiquated law, 76-year-old disabled veteran Lee Carroll Brooker will live out what should be his golden years behind bars — for simple possession of cannabis.

Brooker had been treating multiple chronic conditions with cannabis he grew in his son’s backyard; but when officials in Alabama officials discovered the three dozen plants, they threw him in prison for life — without the possibility of parole.

Thanks to a pointless mandatory minimum sentencing catchall — and the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear his case this week — Brooker has been left little recourse but to ultimately die in jail for treating his ailments with a plant.

“Alabama, like three other states, mandates a life without parole sentence for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana by people with certain prior felony convictions — and Mr. Brooker had been convicted of a string of robberies twenty years earlier in Florida, crimes for which he served ten years in prison,” The New York Times explained. “In such a case, the law doesn’t require prosecutors to prove any intent to sell the drug.”

Essentially, Brooker has been imprisoned twice for the same crime — because he sought relief from nature instead of arguably dangerous, legal and often lethal pharmaceuticals, courtesy of Big Pharma. Worse, Alabama’s already irrational law sets the cutoff in a case like this at 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram), and Brooker’s plants weighed just 2.8 pounds — but that included unusable parts, like stalks and leaves.

Make no mistake — this is an unjust law, an unjust conviction, and a ridiculous capitulation by the Supreme Court to Alabama’s archaic notion a nonviolent offense should somehow land a vet behind bars for life and separate him from his medicine — as if law were an inflexible monster to be beholden to, no matter its worth.

In fact, as the Times pointed out, “[W]hile the sentence was mandatory, the prosecutor was not required to bring the precise charges that triggered it. Prosecutorial discretion here, as in most cases, is a central factor in determining what punishment defendants face.”

In other words, the prosecutor railroaded Brooker over his personal, medicinal plants — by choice. Brooker, who joined the U.S. Army at age 17 and came under fire in both Lebanon and the Dominican Republic, eventually rose to the rank of sergeant in the 82nd Airborne — where he was decorated for infantry service. 

Vox reported that even “notoriously conservative” Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore characterized Brooker’s sentence as “excessive and unjustified.” And according to the Times, the judge deciding the vet’s fate would have preferred to hand down a lighter sentence, but once the charges had been brought as they were, he was obligated to enforce the letter of the law.

Yes, this disabled man technically broke the law; but proffering such a rebuttal rings hollow, if not cold, considering the majority of Americans support cannabis legalization. Legality does not dictate morality.

A growing segment of officials and public figures do, as well, as The Free Thought Project reported recently, more than 1,000 police, world leaders, celebrities, and others signed a letter calling to summarily end the disastrous war on drugs.

In fact, though little comfort to Brooker now, the Drug Enforcement Agency will likely downgrade cannabis from its inexplicable Schedule 1 classification to Schedule 2 — as early as July of this year. Note that while a plethora of viable arguments can be asserted for rescheduling, considering states with laws like Alabama’s — and cases like Brooker’s — the slight concession by federal law would make a comparative, whopping difference.

Brooker attempted to bring his case before the highest court in the land as an inarguable violation of the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment — to no avail. The court’s stonewall, in itself, could be considered as much — in an increasing number of states, Brooker’s so-called crime would have been perfectly legal.

For now, though, it appears the 76-year-old will suffer the consequences of bad policy, unjustifiable law, and the cruelty of ostensible authority figures who were all just doing their jobs.

Read more at http://thefreethoughtproject.com/life-sentence-75-year-old-vet-slightly-plant-allowed-law/#s8Vo4JapilISzggR.99

DEADLINE 4/17: The UN and Drug Policy Reform and YOU

 

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STOP THE DRUG WAR!

Dear reformer:

I need your help this week. On Tuesday the “UN General Assembly on the World Drug Problem” (UNGASS) begins in New York, the UN’s highest-level drug policy session in 18 years. I’m writing to ask you three things:

1) Sign our Change.org petition to President Obama calling for stronger US action on global drug policy reform — calling for reform of the UN drug treaties to allow for legalization of marijuana or other drugs, for the supremacy of human rights, stronger support for public health measures and more.  This petition will continue through next January, but if enough people sign it by Sunday night, we will share it with our contacts in media who are working on stories about next week’s UNGASS.

2) If you run or work with an organization, please consider endorsing our sign-on statement to the UN and the US government. There are hundreds of organizations on the statement already, including some of the leading civil rights, HIV/AIDS groups and religious coalitions, among many others. But we need hundreds more to make the kind of impression on media that we want the statement to have. To endorse the statement, just email me at borden@drcnet.org, and feel free to contact me with any questions.

3) If you believe it’s important for the US drug policy reform movement to play a role in UN drug policy and US foreign policy on drug issues, please make a generous donation to support this campaign. The UNGASS is next week, but global drug policy and our work goes on. The next big UN drug session is just three years away this time, 2019 — the work we’ve done so far is just the beginning.

We’ve done more than organize sign-on letters and petitions. Last week we held a teleconference for media, featuring legislators from Canada and Mexico talking about the prospects for marijuana legalization in those two countries. Next week we are hosting a meeting of NGOs from around the world for how to end the death penalty for drug offenses. We have secured coverage in a range of prominent media outlets, like WashingtonPost.com and the International Business Times, and there are many more that are likely to write stories for UNGASS next week. We have spoken at the UN, for legislative coalitions in Washington, we have brought new and important organizations into drug policy reform. And there is more to come, with your help.

Again, I hope you will sign our petition to President Obama, and that you will help us with an organizational endorsement for our sign-on statement if you can, by Sunday night. Thank you for your support!

Sincerely,

 

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
P.O. Box 9853
Washington, DC 20016
http://stopthedrugwar.org
“U.S. and U.N. Drug Policy Reform”

"Overgrow the Government" on 4/20!

Overgrow 2016

 

This year it is more important than ever to “Overgrow the Government” on 420 and REPEAL PROHIBITION NOW!

 

There are many people who celebrate this “Holiday” both publicly and privately.  Many people will take a casual walk thru their town or nearby park to plant a token seed .  Others will have get-together’s and cook-outs at their homes or at Cannabis friendly businesses in legal States.   Still others will join in on the major 420 EVENTS of the day which include Washington, D.C., and Denver, Colorado.

There will be many Activists participating in the National 420 Event this year for Overgrow the Government.  Among them are,

In Washington, D.C.,  Overgrow the Government’s D.C. National 4/20 March Rally, Concert and Cash Hyde Day!  And, Overgrow  the Government – DC 4/20

 

In Canada, Join Dana Larsen on his cross-Canada “FREE MARIJUANA – OVERGROW THE GOVERNMENT TOUR” this April.

I am calling on all freedom-loving Canadians to grow a cannabis victory garden this spring! Dana Larsen

In Denver, Colorado, Wiz Khalifa and Lil’ Wayne Set to Rock Denver 420 Rally. THIS EVENT WAS CANCELLED!!!

However, “Ticket holders will be honored at a later time” per the website notice.

 

There is even an “Overgrow the Government” website which has nothing to do with Cannabis who promotes and supports self sustainability.  Although they have not posted anything about “420”, I would invite you to take a look at their wonderful website! Their motto is:

We don’t need to “OVERTHROW” the government, we just need to “OUTGROW” the current mindset that we can’t support ourselves w/o them… Hence “OVERGROW” the government. 😉 Local economies can support themselves if we ALL join together!

Personally, I think that my celebration of this year’s 420 will be more of a family and friends get together, with a cook out, working in the vegetable garden and PLANTING SOME SEEDS!!!  

sk

JUST GROW IT!

 

 

overgrowing

Outrageous Sentences for Marijuana

By THE EDITORIAL BOARDAPRIL 14, 2016

 

Lee Carroll Brooker, a 75-year-old disabled veteran suffering from chronic pain, was arrested in July 2011 for growing three dozen marijuana plants for his own medicinal use behind his son’s house in Dothan, Ala., where he lived. For this crime, Mr. Brooker was given a life sentence with no possibility of release.

Alabama law mandates that anyone with certain prior felony convictions be sentenced to life without parole for possessing more than 1 kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of marijuana, regardless of intent to sell. Mr. Brooker had been convicted of armed robberies in Florida two decades earlier, for which he served 10 years. The marijuana plants collected at his son’s house — including unusable parts like vines and stalks — weighed 2.8 pounds.

At his sentencing, the trial judge told Mr. Brooker that if he “could sentence you to a term that is less than life without parole, I would.” Last year, Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, called Mr. Brooker’s sentence “excessive and unjustified,” and said it revealed “grave flaws” in the state’s sentencing laws, but the court still upheld the punishment.

On Friday, the United States Supreme Court will consider whether to hear Mr. Brooker’s challenge to his sentence, which he argues violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments. The justices should take the case and overturn this sentence.

Life without parole, second only to the death penalty in severity, should never be a mandatory sentence for any crime, much less for simple possession of marijuana, which is not even a crime in many parts of the country. If this punishment is ever meted out, it should be by a judge who has carefully weighed the individual circumstances of a case.

Besides Alabama, only South Dakota, Louisiana and Mississippi have such laws; in Mississippi, possession of barely one ounce of marijuana is enough to trigger a mandatory sentence of life without parole for someone with prior convictions for certain felonies. Almost everywhere else, public attitudes and policy toward drugs in general, and marijuana in particular, have changed significantly. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and four states, along with D.C., have fully legalized its possession for recreational use. In most states, the maximum sentence for possessing less than three pounds of marijuana is at most five years.

CONTINUE READING…

As Marijuana Goes Mainstream, California Pioneers Rot in Federal Prison

Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes opened a dispensary in Modesto. Now they’re doing 20 years in federal prison. Their families want them home.

By Angela Bacca / AlterNet

April 13, 2016

Behind the headlines about President Obama’s historic visit to federal prisons and highly publicized releases of non-violent drug offenders, the numbers tell a different story. Despite encouraging and receiving more clemency petitions than any president in U.S. history—more than the last two administrations combined, nearly 20,000very few federal prisoners are actually being granted clemency.

Nowhere is this irony more glaring than in the world of legal cannabis. Cannabis is now considered the fastest-growing industry in the nation, yet remains federally illegal. The sea change from the Department of Justice since 2009 has allowed state-legal cannabis industries to thrive. Federal solutions seem to be around the corner and for the first time cannabis businesses are being publicly traded and receiving legal Wall Street investment.

Ricardo Montes and Luke Scarmazzo are two of the 20,000 federal prisoners appealing to President Obama for clemency. They have exhausted their appeals and are serving 20-year mandatory minimum sentences for openly running a dispensary in the early days of California’s pioneering medical cannabis law. The irony isn’t lost on them that their crimes are now legal and profitable, but their appeals for clemency aren’t based on justice anymore—they just want to be home with their kids. Their daughters, Jasmine Scarmazzo, 13, and Nina Montes, 10, are appealing directly to President Obama to release their fathers via a Change.org petition.  

Nina and Jasmine

Nina Montes is in fifth grade. She is a straight A student who loves math and wants to be a doctor when she grows up. She was just four years old when her dad went to prison. “All I remember is the cops coming and taking him away from me on my birthday,” Nina says. She has always dreamed that her father would be released on her birthday, May 15.  

“It is really sad and it makes me cry [when I visit my dad in prison],” Nina says. “I cry when the time is over and we have to go because we only get three hours, maybe two.”

Nina gets to visit her father once every two months at FCI Lompoc, a five-hour drive from her home in Modesto, Calif.

“All I know is he made a mistake and I don’t think he should be owing that [much time],” Nina says.

Federal prisoners must purchase minutes in order to use phones. They are allowed up to 300 a month and calls are limited to 15 minutes each. Ricardo Montes says he tries to call every other day, sometimes every day, but he has to share his limited phone time between his three children.

“I try to speak to all of them, Nina is the oldest so I have more of a conversation with her. She is at the age now where I can actually explain why I am here,” Montes says. “She didn’t know for a long time. She really doesn’t understand when I explain to her what I did. She’s like, there are still other dispensaries open, why aren’t they going to jail? I told her I have no answer for that.”

Jasmine Scarmazzo is in the eighth grade and loves to debate. Inspired by her father’s case, she says she wants to be a criminal attorney when she grows up. She is increasingly confused as to why her dad is still in prison.

“There were so many tears,” Jasmine says, remembering the day Scarmazzo and Montes were sentenced. “My mom said, your dad got 20 years in prison; I didn’t really comprehend how long that was, I just knew I wasn’t going to see him for a long time. I knew why [he was going to prison]—because of the dispensary—but I was so confused, why is he going to prison if he is helping people?”

Jasmine remained confused until about the age of 8, when she started learning more about federal and state government in school and how it applied to her father’s case.

Over the years legal dispensaries have popped up, not just in Modesto, but across the country. Today marijuana companies are publicly traded and driving legal and profitable Wall Street investment in a handful of states.

“It makes me feel confused, once again, as to why our system is only holding certain people who are doing the same thing in 2016 and are free, and my dad’s in prison,” Jasmine says.  

“Being in prison makes us miss the small normal things that a father and daughter share,” Luke Scarmazzo says. “I don’t get to be there to encourage her successes or console her when she fails or has a bad day. I don’t experience the little things like what she doesn’t like for breakfast or who her friends are. These are attributes that a dad should know and often take for granted, but because of our limited communication, I have to rush to talk to her about the larger mile-markers in life.”

Crime and Punishment

Scarmazzo and Montes opened the California Healthcare Collective in 2004, when they were both 23 years old. Although California became the first medical cannabis state by voter initiative in 1996, dispensaries didn’t begin to appear until the early 2000s, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area. The state legislature passed S.B. 420 in 2003 to provide basic guidelines for state-legal medical cannabis cultivation and distribution. After the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2004, more dispensaries began to open, but mainly in San Francisco and Los Angeles. CHC was the first in the Central Valley and served a patient base accustomed to driving an hour or more west to San Francisco and Oakland to obtain safe access under the law.

Montes says there was a clear need for a dispensary in the Central Valley. One local doctor writing cannabis recommendations had said up to 70 percent of his patients, many with cancer, were making regular trips to the Bay Area to access cannabis.

“We were the only ones open and we helped a lot of patients who were sick and couldn’t travel,” Montes says. “It was actually a good thing for the Central Valley… but [local law enforcement and then-mayor Jim Ridenour] didn’t see us as helping people out, they saw us as young kids making money and selling a narcotic drug. We tried to help people. We paid a lot of sales tax [over $1 million], but in that town it doesn’t matter.”

Modesto is largely an agricultural city located about an hour south of Sacramento, the state capital, and about an hour east of the San Francisco Bay. At 9.6 percent in 2015, the city has nearly twice the national average unemployment. Modesto, and the rest of the Central Valley, has consistently ranked high among the highest unemployment averages in the nation.

At the height of its operation, the collective employed up to 14 people.

“The people of the Central Valley are a hard-working, mostly blue-collar community and they don’t earn very high incomes compared to the rest of California,” Luke Scarmazzo says. “Many didn’t have the extra money to regularly make the 100-plus mile commute [to a legal storefront]. The patients that couldn’t afford to travel to the Bay Area before CHC opened were forced to break the law and purchase their recommended medication from the illicit market. It was a terrible hardship on so many levels.”

The dispensary was legal under state law, but as is it still is today, federally illegal. Although many have interpreted the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to leave the regulation of medicine to the states, the federal government affirmed its dominance over state medical cannabis programs in the controversial 2005 Supreme Court decision Gonzalez v. Raich. The federal government argued that because cannabis grown for personal consumption could wind up on the interstate market, the federal government had the authority to enforce federal commerce laws to control state-legal medical marijuana despite voter-approved or supported state legislation.

On Sept. 27, 2006—Jasmine’s fourth birthday—CHC was raided and Scarmazzo and Montes were taken into custody. In 2006, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott referred to the pair as the “poster children” for the problems with medical marijuana.

“These were drug dealers selling marijuana. This case is that simple,” Scott told the press. He cited $9.2 million in gross sales over two years of operation as evidence the collective was operating for-profit, in opposition to S.B. 420, which required medical cannabis collectives operate not-for-profit.

Gross sales paint an inaccurate picture of actual income and are irrelevant to defining a not-for-profit enterprise. Further, they aren’t completely accurate under state law. Gross sales reflect the total revenues generated before expenses such as labor, security, overhead, legal fees, and perhaps most relevant, cost of goods sold. Under California law, collectives can be reimbursed for their expenses and donations are made to continue the service of cultivating and distributing cannabis to patients. Technically, the numbers reflect gross donations made to the collective before expenses.

Despite what federal prosecutors decried as over-the-top executive compensation, it is not illegal or unheard of that a director at a non-profit could make over $100,000 annually in personal compensation while the business remains a non-profit. Top directors at United Way make just as much and are unquestionably considered not-for-profit.

Scarmazzo and Montes were found guilty of conspiracy, distribution and cultivation of marijuana. 

As Luke Scarmazzo wrote for Kindland.com, “we were also charged with conducting a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE), a Nixon-era drug kingpin offense that carries a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. No medical marijuana dispensary operator has ever been convicted under this fearsome statute. It has historically been reserved for cartel leaders and international drug kingpins. In fact, the charge is so rarely used that only 0.02 percent of inmates in the U.S., that’s 427 of them, are serving sentences for CCE.”

The FBI defines CCE in terms of membership and leadership, organizations with six or more people, one of which is a primary organizer, involved in organized crime or significant racketeering activity. Scarmazzo and Montes are the only state-legal dispensary owners to be convicted of CCE.

On May 15, 2008—Nina’s third birthday—Scarmazzo and Montes were sentenced and taken into custody. Scarmazzo was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months, Montes to the 20-year mandatory minimum.

Six months later Barack Obama was elected president. Shortly after he took office, in 2009, then-Attorney General Eric Holder released what is now known as the Ogden Memo, outlining the administration’s position in regards to state-legal medical cannabis; the feds said they were backing off compliant cannabis businesses and non-profits in legal states. The new position seemed to be a complete shift from the George W. Bush administration’s strong position against state legal medical cannabis. Cannabis businesses began to pop up all over California and Colorado.

Since Obama took office, four states and Washington D.C. have legalized adult use cannabis and 24 states have legal whole plant medical cannabis programs. In 2013, shortly after Colorado and Washington voters approved legalization initiatives, the Department of Justice issued the Cole Memo, which stated that, for the most part, the DOJ would not use its resources to enforce federal laws in states that had voted to legalize medical or adult use marijuana. Large-scale grow operations are now legal and profitable in many states. These states have not just legalized and regulated, they have taken in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues.

Today, Harborside Health Center in Oakland boasts over $25 million in gross annual sales. Blum, also in Oakland, recently became the first publicly traded dispensary with an initial valuation of $21 million based on $14 million in gross annual sales when it was acquired by Terratech Corporation. Privateer Holdings, owners of a portfolio of brands including Leafly.com, received the largest infusion of Wall Street capital of any marijuana business to date, $75 million. According to Weedmaps.com, there are four dispensary storefronts operating in the city of Modesto today and over 30 more mobile delivery services in the area.

Scarmazzo and Montes have watched all the legislative change around them from behind bars.

“I have mixed emotions when I read the headlines regarding legal marijuana,” Scarmazzo says. “On one hand, I’m happy to see the progress that is being made, research being conducted and the injustices being addressed. Marijuana in the context of criminal justice reform is something we desperately need in this country. On the other hand it’s extremely frustrating. With almost a decade served in prison, we’ve seen our freedom taken, our properties forfeited and our families lost, for business activities that are essentially legal now and taking place everyday throughout the country. Yet, we continue to struggle through this lengthy mandatory sentence. It’s hard to wrap my mind around sometimes.”

“It’s upsetting because when I got arrested I was young, I was only 26 years old, I thought I was doing something right by following state law,” Montes says. “So by exercising my rights and going to trial to fight for my innocence, they punished us severely. I have no action, so to me when I see that it’s a kick in the face. What did I do wrong?”

Selective Prosecution

Search the name “Luke Scarmazzo” online and the first thing that pops up is a Youtube video called “Kraz-Business Man.” The video depicts scenes of Scarmazzo in a courtroom arguing that his medical cannabis business is legitimate and in alternate scenes smoking blunts and counting cash. Midway through the video he turns his middle finger to the camera and raps, “Fuck the Feds.” The video was an undeniably dumb move for a man running a state-legal medical cannabis dispensary in unchartered territory in the earliest days of Prop. 215, though hardly a crime. The video was introduced as evidence against Scarmazzo and Montes in court.

Twelve years later, Montes and Scarmazzo are in their mid-30s and their daughters are growing up without them. 

“My daughter, Jasmine, was four years old when I was arrested. Ricardo’s daughter, Nina, was two. Today they are entering high school and junior high school, respectively,” Luke Scarmazzo wrote for Kindland.com. “They have spent much of their young lives growing up without their fathers. The impact is visible and saddening. According to a 2014 Rutgers University study, one in 28 children in the USA currently have an incarcerated parent. These children have a greater chance of living in poverty and an increased risk of experiencing serious mental-health issues.”

With all appeals exhausted, their only hope of early release is for President Obama to grant them clemency. Their applications are one of over 20,000 the administration has received. Jasmine and Nina hope that by appealing to supporters around the country via the petition they can ultimately reach President Obama.

“My dad is a good man. He made a mistake, but he is very sorry for it,” Nina says. “President Obama has two daughters. I don’t think they would like it if he went to prison for 20 years. His daughters would be miserable and want him home—he would want to come home too. That’s the exact same way I feel.”

“As we do time we realize our mistakes. Ignorance of the law is no excuse; at the time I didn’t understand federal law and how it trumps state law,” Montes says. “Now I understand it’s illegal federally. When I was young I didn’t understand that. We all make mistakes. Hopefully he could forgive our mistakes.”

“I’ve made some big mistakes in the past, ones that have greatly affected those closest to me, and I’m fully responsible for those poor decisions. But I ask for a second opportunity to prove I can make a positive impact, and most importantly, return to being a responsible father to a little girl that means the world to me,” Luke Scarmazzo says.

Sign the Change.org petition, “President Obama, Free Our Dads.”

Angela Bacca is a Portland, Oregon-based writer, photographer and medical cannabis patient. She has been published in Cannabis Now, SFCritic Music Blog, Skunk Magazine, and West Coast Cannabis, among others. 

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

 

Ninth Circuit Affirms Convictions of Two Modesto Men for Growing and Selling Marijuana

Modesto Marijuana Collective Owners Convicted

I Am Serving 20 Years For Opening a Medical Cannabis Dispensary