Pubdate: Wed, 13 May 2015
Source: Seattle Weekly (WA)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Michael A. Stusser


As states open up to marijuana, let's not forget those still serving 
hard time for possessing a plant.

When I talk to my friends about the marijuana movement, most think 
it's a fun idea that's basically run its course.

I mean, everyone agrees pot will eventually be legal, right?

So what's left to talk about? While folks in four states can now get 
high as a kite without consequences, more than 600,000 citizens are 
arrested each year for marijuana-related offenses, and almost 100,000 
men and women currently serve sentences for drug offenses.

Looking at the details of some of these cases makes your head 
spin-not in a hilarious hazy-fog kinda way, more in a Linda 
Blair-in-Exorcist kinda way. In an effort to show how lucky we are, 
how ridiculous federal policy is, and how much work still remains, 
allow me to share a few details of those affected by the War on Drugs.

Antonio Bascaro, now 80, has been imprisoned for 35 years after 
smuggling pot in a fishing boat from Columbia to Florida. No 
violence, no hard drugs, no prior offenses-just a bail of weed and 
some bad luck. Bascaro's sentence does not qualify for the U.S. 
Sentencing Commission reform guidelines (which have shortened drug 
sentences for 40,000 federal prisoners), because-get this-the 
sentence itself is too old to be shortened.

Convicted in 1980, he holds the record as the U.S.'s longest-serving 
marijuana prisoner-a record I'm sure he'd happily relinquish if he 
could enjoy as a free man a few of his remaining days. The good news? 
His original sentence has been chopped by 20 years due to good behavior.

His new release date? June 2019.

Canadians like locking up old hippies too. 76-year-old grandpa Donald 
Clarkson was just sent to a slammer north of the border for growing 
150 plants in his rental house.

The ex-trucker told the judge he'd started the grow operation only to 
supplement his meager pension. Guess Gramps should have tried a 
different entrepreneurial effort, cuz he'll be serving the minimum 
sentence, six months, under Canada's (recently toughened) federal 
drug laws after pleading guilty to production of marijuana for the 
purposes of trafficking.

Shona Banda, 37, lost custody of her 11-year-old son on March 24 
after the boy questioned some of the Reefer Madness being delivered 
in a drug- and alcohol-education program at his school-and mentioned 
the medical marijuana in his own home. School officials in Kansas 
then contacted the police, who went to the house on a "welfare check" 
and found cannabis and drug paraphernalia in the kitchen.

Officers subsequently took the boy into protective custody.

Banda uses cannabis oil to treat her Crohn's disease.

A fundraising website for Banda's legal defense states that her son 
"disagreed with some of the anti-pot points that were being made by 
school officials." After a hearing last Monday, Kansas authorities 
refused to give Banda her son back and placed him into protective custody.

Banda, the author of Live Free or Die: Reclaim Your Life . . . 
Reclaim Your Country (about her medical use of cannabis oil), is 
generating a ton of support and publicity, and clearly will not go 
down without a fight.

The case has been forwarded to the district attorney's office, where 
possible charges include possession of marijuana with the intent to 
distribute and child endangerment.

In 2012, a Maryland District judge planned on letting Ronald Hammond 
off with a fine for his possession charge, saying there wasn't enough 
weed in the case to "roll you a decent joint." Hammond agreed to pay 
a $100 fine. Problem was that Hammond had then officially violated 
parole for a 2009 drug charge-so instead of the $100 ticket, the 
charge triggered a 20-year prison sentence.

Like so many caught in the system, Hammond got just two strikes and 
he was out (for decades).

The folks at Seattle Hempfest have been advocating for those 
imprisoned for pot for more than two decades now; they've also 
"adopted" several men serving life sentences without the possibility 
of parole for cannabis-related charges.

One adopted prisoner is writer George Martorano, who has been in 
prison 32 years.

He's serving a life sentence-the longest prison term ever imposed on 
a nonviolent first-time offender in American history. (USA! USA!) 
Martorano has written more than 30 books (including self-help books 
for inmates); with all that confinement, he's certainly got the time.

"Truly my greatest fear of prison," he wrote on his website,, "is to die and no one knowing of I, prisoner 12973, 
thus I must write."

I'm sure there were people in 1964 who, after passage of the landmark 
Civil Rights Act, felt the movement had done its job and was over. 
After all, the Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, 
religion, sex, or national origin.

Unfortunately, the cause for that movement-as well as the 
legalization movement-still exists.

The struggle is not even close to being over. So we push on . . . and 
continue the dialogue.

To get involved, go to, or
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom