This guest post is written by Michael Martin, a medical cannabis edible provider who was raided by the DEA and recently sentenced in federal court. You can find out more about Martin’s saga and contribute to his defense fund at www.freetainted.com.
Imagine waking up one morning to realize that you are locked in a battle with justice, morality, and the United States government. Talk about a scary realization. When we set out on this battle to fight for our freedoms, in all honesty we felt pretty doomed, but vowed to not give up our beliefs in medical cannabis and our confidence in the community. Our organization understood from the beginning that we were making more than food products. We always felt that we were changing the world, one candy bar at a time.
For Tainted Compassion, being actively involved in the community was imperative. We saw it as our duty and honor to serve patient needs where others would not, and defend the honor of the medical marijuana movement at all costs. You might say we began preparing for this experience throughout the years, as we built our company with patient safety and community awareness being the cornerstones of our efforts. We strived to be more than just confectioners. Our efforts were driven by our beliefs in cannabis therapies and the need for social change. Instilling these beliefs in everyone involved with the company was a daily task, and we worked tirelessly to provide the cleanest and safest medications in the marketplace, in which patients could be confident of quality and effectiveness. Our daily operations kept us focused on being a part of a larger community, and from the beginning of our battle for justice our business practices made a difference in the way we were perceived, treated, and prosecuted by the government. My best advice to people in the movement is to not wait until something happens to begin preparing for it. Look around and see what could be done better now and make improvements where needed.
I can remember getting home from court the day I surrendered to authorities, looking around my ransacked house and just taking in the magnitude of what I was up against. I looked at the broken doors, the cracked safe, the piles of paperwork scattered about and understood clearly that this was a war I was entrenched in with an armed and well-funded militant group that used failed policies and flawed logic to invade my home and businesses. Overwhelming is an understatement. I was outraged by the senseless actions of the government and I was worried for my family. My wife assured me that she had confidence in me and supported my efforts to create awareness for the cause through our family’s toughest moments. My wife understood I was not just some pothead who had taken things too far, but a medical patient and a person who had strong convictions about the rights of people to use cannabis as a medicine. Having this support at home allowed me to focus more clearly on the task at hand, and gave me confidence to carry on in the face of danger. I would strongly encourage for people to surround themselves with people who understand their beliefs and support their actions.
The next hurdle to overcome was to begin changing public perception surrounding our case. We counted on the staff at ASA to work with the media and other outlets to change the climate of the dialogue surrounding our case. They worked tirelessly to help make people understand that we did not just make “pot candy” that was a danger to children, but that we made edible forms of cannabis medicines that were only distributed to qualified patients in California. I remember spending weeks on end combatting false perception on different websites and blogs that had slandered our intentions and bought in to the DEA’s ruthless interpretation of our case. It can drive one crazy, as the internet allows for anyone anywhere to publish anything, and often this form of media is dangerously inaccurate. I can recall having to simply stop wasting my energy fighting with people who had no idea of who I was and did not understand our situation. It had become maddening.
A week after I had turned myself in I was honored to be invited to speak with ASA in Los Angeles at a rally in front of the governor’s office. I remember speaking to the crowd of some 300 medical cannabis activists and was energized by the experience. It was a much needed outlet for my frustrations, and a rallying cry for the movement to get moving. That night the Arts District healing Center was raided and I was on the front lines protesting the DEA’s actions. I remember being very angry, as I saw firsthand the injustices our community faced, as armed gunmen forcibly removed property from the building. We stood in solidarity that night and vowed to continue fighting these injustices.
A week later I found myself face to face with the same agents that had raided my house, as a dispensary in Hayward was in the progress of being raided. I pleaded with the agents to think about their actions. I screamed for them to stop the senseless invasions on our community and focus their efforts on finding real criminals. I begged them to research the efficacies of medical cannabis and listen to science and medical professionals. They were not listening. They laughed at me. I understood clearly that there was no reasoning with them.
I organized a protest at the Oakland Federal Building, to be followed by a bake sale. I showed up in a Santa suit carrying a large uncle Sam head that I had painted that simply stated “LIAR.” Several activists joined me, as we sang Christmas carols and protested the violent raids in our community. I spent the better part of a day making a large Christmas card for the DEA, which some thirty activists signed and we delivered to the security staff at the federal building. My wife clearly thought I was insane, but I felt compelled to make some sort of a stand to combat the injustices of the situation. It was a moral victory, if nothing else.
But it may have served as a practical victory, as well. The prosecutor acknowledged his awareness of the protests and offered us a very generous plea bargain, considering that he could have fought to have me incarcerated for a decade. I had come to a fork in the road. The decision was clear. I could put my future in the hands of a jury that would have no background on the medicinal intentions of our products, or I could accept the government’s offer and make my plea to the sentencing judge to have leniency when considering the unique circumstances of our case. After a lot of soul searching and discussions with my family and friends, I reluctantly accepted the lesser of two evils, and spared my family and many others involved with our organization the grueling process of a grand jury indictment and full blown investigation into every corner of my life. It saddened me to have to admit guilt when I believed I was doing the right thing, but I could not gamble with my family’s future and risk spending ten plus years behind bars on principle alone.
At this point we were faced with a new set of challenges. We shifted our focus to making the probation office, the judge, and the prosecution aware of the difficulties facing the medical cannabis community and the reasoning that had lead us to become providers of medical cannabis. We began reaching out for support from patients, activists, and people close to us in hopes that through the words of many the voice of reason would prevail. We began a letter writing campaign that we hoped would help others to understand that we did not stand alone in our beliefs of cannabis therapeutics. We gathered these letters through community events, partnerships with several medical cannabis organizations and their outlets, and through an online forum for submitting letters of support. We ended up with about a hundred statements of support addressed to the judge, ranging from very personal encounters from those who know and love us, to abstract letters that affirmed the support of our cause. The culmination of these efforts were invaluable, as the judge at sentencing acknowledged her awareness of our support through the many letters she had received. It took a lot of persistent work to gather and submit these many different statements, but I truly believe that it was this community support that made a real difference in the eventual outcome of us not being incarcerated for our efforts. I cannot thank everyone enough who took time out of their lives to help us out.
I began writing about my experiences early on in the process at freetainted.com, as I found it a good release for my energy and it helped me to create understanding for our cause. I remember wondering if anyone besides my mother ever read my work, as I would occasionally post it to activist lists and forums throughout the community. Every once in a while someone would respond in support, but I did not think that there were many people listening. I was wrong. I began receiving calls and letters of support and inquiries from publications about using my writings. People became interested and involved, as I allowed them to be a part of the process by sharing my deepest thoughts and most intimate feelings about my future. This is not always easy, as you worry how much is too much information and you often can feel as if you are whining too much about your situation. You wonder if people really care and worry about burdening others with your personal plight. I continued to press on with my writing though, as it simply made me feel better.
What began as a simple outlet for my frustrations and thoughts about our case, also became one of the most valuable resources in our fight for justice. Our blog was not only read by active members of the medical cannabis community, but also read by attorneys and officers of the court. It provided a much deeper background into our views and beliefs and created understanding in places that often cannot see clearly the views of the medical cannabis movement. It created a dialogue of knowledge that people who were interested could access and make more informed decisions about who we were and what we stood for. I was told by many that came out to support us that they had followed my writings and were motivated to advocate on our behalf. It was inspiring. I was honored that my ramblings had served a purpose and that people felt like they knew me before they had ever met me. I was astonished by the truly caring nature of these folks that had been following along in cyberspace, and it was touching to see people who were glad to stand by us in our most trying moment.
On our day of sentencing we were surrounded by supporters from far and wide. People had travelled from long distances, taken time off work, and were passionate about helping us find a more just path. I recall turning around before our press conference and seeing fifty plus people holding signs in support of medical cannabis. True activism was taking place on this otherwise regular Wednesday afternoon and I knew at that moment that our months of hard work and efforts had paid off. I knew that no matter what happened in that courtroom that we had accomplished bringing together a large constituency of supporters to be witness to history. Friends I had not seen in a decade came from out of town to stand by my side and to comfort my family. People continually thanked me for my efforts and I was surrounded by a wonderful group of community activists that vowed to keep fighting for the rights of patients and providers.
It was an anxious afternoon, as I stood amidst the wooden backdrop of the federal courtroom patiently awaiting the decision that would affect my life for years to come. I had mentally prepared to deal with the ramifications of being incarcerated and I was ready for the worst. I was amazed when the Judge began inquiring into the rationale of the legal parameters concerning medical cannabis, as this was unlike any of the experiences I had witnessed or read about in other cases involving medical marijuana. It seemed as if somewhere along the lines the judge had understood that there was a difference between cannabis and medical cannabis and that she felt it was worth exploring further. My attorneys did a fine job of trying to explain in detail the ever changing climate in the battle between state rights and federal justice. I recall thinking that our movement had come a long way, as a federal judge was now interested in learning more about more than whether or not a law was simply broken, but also why that law had been broken. There was a recognition of our community’s beliefs and it was comforting to feel somewhat validated by the experience.
At the end of the day I was still a convicted felon. I was still sentenced to two years of confinement, split between home confinement and a halfway house, and will be monitored for five years. I had still lost everything in the process of it all, but I still felt as if I had won a small victory by avoiding a long period of incarceration and loss of time with my family. When you begin a process feeling as if you are doomed and will be imprisoned for many years of your life, it is invigorating when you are spared a long trip to prison in favor of a lesser alternative. Of course I regret that we had to overcome these odds and that we are still branded as criminals, but I am grateful for the compassion that was shown in not taking us away from our loved ones. I regret that my co-workers were thrust into these positions, as they did not deserve to lose their liberties over medical cannabis foods. They performed wonderfully in the face of aggression and I was proud to have had such a great and well-informed staff. They will forever hold a special place in my heart and can stand proud as valuable examples of courage and valor we should all expect from those we work with in this movement for change.
The many different components that worked in our favor to help secure a more just outcome renews my faith in community support and involvement. I cannot express enough the gratitude I had when the entire courtroom stood in solidarity behind me. It proved firsthand that a small group of dedicated citizens working together CAN create real change and continue to chip away at the obstacles that stand in the way of safe access.
If you have not done so already, reach out to the many others facing imprisonment and show support for the movement by writing letters on their behalf. Take time to go to court, reach out and talk to public officials, and by all means vote. Often times our movement does not move very rapidly, but we continue to see progress. We will continue to see progress, as we get more people involved with direct action and roles of support. I encourage everyone to do your part and when you are done with that find a friend and teach them how to do their part. Through persistence, we will continue to knock down barriers and eventually safe access WILL be a reality in our society.