The dawn of the movement to legalize weed in the United States is explored in a new documentary film series, which made its world premiere this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Cannabis Buyers Club, the story of pot dealer, cannabis reform leader and queer rights activist Dennis Peron, debuted at the world-renowned film festival on Monday, with a repeat showing planned for tonight.
“Cannabis Buyers Club chronicles the most important unknown LGBTQ+ rights struggle of the 20th century,” reads a synopsis of the film shared by the Tribeca Film Festival. “When a new disease ravages his community and the government doesn’t care, renegade pot dealer Dennis Peron leads a movement to help, heal, and fight back. Peron, a gay Vietnam vet, builds a pot empire in the middle of the war on drugs and fights politicians and police to save his friends. The definitive story of marijuana legalization in America.”
The four-part documentary series was directed by Kip Andersen and Chris O’Connell, who also served as the film’s producer. In the opening episode, the film follows Peron’s introduction to cannabis as a reluctant soldier in Vietnam. Eschewing alcohol as a “war drug,” the pacifist instead turned to pot when it was time for his unit to take R & R.
From Vietnam To The Castro
Not long before his tour in Vietnam ended, Peron traveled to Thailand, where he bought five or six pounds of some of the best cannabis in the world. Then, assigned to the base mail room after returning to his unit, he began sending weed back to the United States hidden in cassette tape cases. After returning to America and taking up residence in San Francisco, Peron’s foray into the underground pot industry continued in earnest.
His involvement in the community and political activism put Peron at the front of the effort to legalize weed in San Francisco, where he counted gay activist and later county supervisor Harvey Milk among his many allies. Selling pot from storefronts in the Castro, Peron’s will to champion cannabis policy reform was galvanized by the AIDS epidemic, which took the lives of his partner and countless others and left his friends and neighbors wasting away. Cannabis stimulated patients’ appetites and helped keep from losing weight, prolonging their lives.
In the early 1990s, Peron founded the Cannabis Buyers Club in San Francisco, giving patients and their caregivers a safe place to obtain the medicine they needed. In 1996, he co-authored Proposition 215, the landmark ballot measure that legalized the medical use of cannabis in California.
“In order to unpack the stories of Cannabis Buyers Club, you have to know the mood of San Francisco at that time, as well as the events that led to Dennis becoming this controversial guy,” Andersen and O’Connell write in their directors’ statement. “These events could only have happened in San Francisco, which stars in this film alongside Dennis and other colorful characters: Brownie Mary, Tony Sera, Joe Banon, Greg Corrales. It was the perfect political storm where the AIDS crisis crashed into the drug war and a liberal city fought against a conservative state and won. Precedents were set in justice, the repercussions of which are still felt today, with new states legalizing marijuana every year.”
Peron suffered a stroke in 2010, making it difficult for him to speak. His health declining, Peron shared his life story with the filmmakers behind Cannabis Buyers Club in the last interviews before his death in 2018.
“A few months into making this film, Dennis, the controversial protagonist and hero died,” wrote O’Connell and Andersen. “We were with him in his bedroom days before, cameras rolling hearing the story from him. We remember that last interview. He told us how he used to walk right into Dianne Feinstein’s office when she was mayor of San Francisco. He could do that, well, because he kind of ran that city then.”
Cannabis Buyers Club Screening At Tribeca Film Festival
In addition to the June 16 screening of Cannabis Buyers Club, the Tribeca Film Festival is hosting virtual access to the documentary for viewing at home, which began on June 15. The festival started on June 8 and closes on Sunday, June 19.
“This 2022 feature film program leaves us proud and humbled by the boundless ingenuity and passion of our indefatigable filmmaking community,” festival director and vice president of programming Cara Cusumano said in a press release when this year’s selections were revealed in April. “Whether a comedic breath of fresh air or a trenchant expose of the most urgent contemporary issues, this year’s official selections again remind us of the vitality and urgency of independent film in a world that needs it more than ever.”
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Chris Webber launches ‘Players Only’
Chris Webber, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, and Lavetta Willis, an entrepreneur, have announced the launch of their cannabis brand, Players Only, and they have recruited other famous people to help promote it.
The new superstar label was unveiled for the first time on August 11. The store, which will be called “Players Only,” will sell weed of many different varieties, as well as vape pens, pre-rolled joints, and other sports recovery and performance aids. Players Only is also releasing a line of branded clothing and shoes.
By acquiring Gage Growth Corp in March, TerrAscend became the sole distributor of Players Only products in Michigan, clearing the door for the launch of the brand.
Webber argued that “Players Only” was more than just a cannabis company. “We really do have a once-in-a-generation chance to alter the cannabis narrative, encourage budding business owners, and establish a new benchmark for this dynamic sector. We are excited to introduce our diverse products and services and get started on the path toward bringing about lasting economic improvement in neighborhoods all around Michigan. We want to give a shout out to our Michigan relatives, TerrAscend and Gage. Take care, Berner and Cookies; we’re leaving.
Webber announced a Detroit marijuana complex in October 2017 that included a grow room, dispensary, and VIP smoking area. The Players Only facility, which is 180,000 square feet in size, is known as the Webber Wellness Compound.
C4, Time Out, G.O.A.T.’s Milk, Non-Laters, and Whipped Cherries are among the first strains to hit the market. Within a matter of weeks, new strains from the brand, such as Blueberry Hotcakes and Ray Jackson’s Black Sox, will be available for purchase. In comparison to the hashy, Afghani vibe that C4 can give off, reviewers agree that the sativa-leaning G.O.A.T.’s Milk has an optimal ratio of THC to CBD. On the other hand, whipped cherries are just how you’d imagine them to be.
Lavetta Willis, co-founder and President of Players Only, said, “We have been working with legacy cultivators and operators wanting to establish their place in the regulated market for quite some time.” Incorporating legacy strains and expertise into the Players Only platform and menu helps us move closer to our ultimate goal of recognizing and celebrating the contributions of black business owners who have built successful brands and intellectual assets throughout the years.
Compliments of the Chef and Raekwon’s collaboration with Citizen Grown were both revealed alongside the collaboration with the company. Similarly, Hassim Robinson and Winner’s Circle Genetics have teamed up to introduce the PB&J strain and Quavo’s BIRKINZ to the Michigan cannabis market. Detroit native Royce da 5’9′′ will release his “Heaven” label as part of a network of free trade zones (NFT), and the “Lil Stupid” brand, which has been around for a while, will enter the adult-use market for the first time. White Chocolate will also be introduced by Webber’s former colleague on the Sacramento Kings, Jason Williams.
Along with starting “The Smoke” with business partner and co-host Stephen Jackson, Webber recently hired former NBA great and teammate Matt Barnes as Chief Collaborations Officer. The name of the product is a reference to the critically acclaimed SHOWTIME series created by Barnes and Jackson.
In their podcast, “All the Smoke,” “the loud and unapologetic NBA champions, give authentic, unvarnished viewpoint on the most polarizing themes in and outside the game of basketball, including culture, social justice, politics, music, and more.”
New episodes of “All the Smoke” are released weekly on Thursdays.
Starting with the Players Only x Packwoods 2.5-gram Blunt, available at select retailers, the brand will be introduced to the public.
LeBron James Calls for Brittney Griner’s Release from Russian Prison
NBA superstar LeBron James on Sunday called on the U.S. government to work to secure the release of WNBA champion and Olympic basketball gold medalist Brittney Griner, who has been held in a Russian prison on a cannabis possession charge for nearly four months.
“We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! Our voice as athletes is stronger together,” James wrote on Twitter over the weekend.
James also shared a message from his brand Uninterrupted that calls on President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to work for Griner’s release. The post also encouraged readers to learn more about the case online.
“For over 100 days, BG has faced inhumane conditions in a Russian prison and has been denied communications with her family and loved ones,” reads a message from Uninterrupted that was included in the social media post. “As a decorated Olympian and member of an elite global sport community, BG’s detention must be resolved out of respect for the sanctity of all sport and for all Americans traveling internationally. It is imperative that the U.S. Government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home.”
James also posted a link to an online petition hosted by Change.org that maintains that “Griner is a beloved global citizen who has used her platform since her entry into the WNBA to help others.” James encouraged fans to share and sign the petition, which had collected more than 250,000 signatures as of Tuesday.
Olympic and WNBA Superstar
Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center who has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, including the team’s 2014 league championship squad. She has also twice won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team.
Griner has played seven seasons of professional basketball in Russia during the winter, a common practice among WNBA players. She earns about $1 million per season to play in Russia, about four times the salary she earns playing for the WNBA. On January 29, Griner played her most recent game with her team UMMC Ekaterinburg before the Russian league took a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.
The Russian Customs Service reported on March 5 that an American women’s basketball player had been detained after cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. The date of the arrest was not given and Griner was not named in the report. The customs also released a video that appeared to show Griner with security officials at an airport security checkpoint.
The Russian state news agency TASS subsequently reported that the arrested player was Griner. Although the date of Griner’s arrest was not announced, media outlets reported that she has been in custody since February 17. After news of the arrest made headlines, the WNBA and the players’ union issued messages of support for the star athlete.
“Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support, and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States,” the league wrote in a statement after Griner’s arrest was announced by Russian media.
Griner’s arrest by Russian authorities has led to an outcry from lawmakers, cannabis advocates, celebrities, and fellow athletes. Democratic Representative Colin Allred of Texas, the star athlete’s home state, said on March 9 that he was looking into Griner’s arrest.
“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, as quoted by ESPN. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”
A month after her arrest, Russian authorities announced that Griner’s detention would be extended for two months. TASS reported on March 17 that Griner was being held in an undisclosed Russian prison pending further investigation of the case. The news agency also said that Ekaterina Kalugina of the human rights group Public Monitoring Commission, a quasi-official body with access to Russian prisons, had visited Griner. Kalugina reported that Griner was doing well and being held in humane conditions.
In May, the U.S. Department of State reclassified Griner’s status, saying that she had been “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” the State Department wrote in an email to ESPN. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
Since then, however, the status of Griner’s case has remained unchanged, prompting the renewed calls for her release from James on Sunday.
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Why Should We Care If Pot Offenders Get Released From Prison?
Once upon a time, getting busted by the police with a bit of pot in your pocket in Anywhere, USA, was going to set off a chain reaction that, to the unknowing passerby, the unaware, might appear as though somebody was murdered. Officers would have the pothead perp face down on the sidewalk, cuffed up tight, eventually hauling his ass down to the local precinct where the real reaming would begin. That’s where the offender would inevitably be charged for their felonious actions, booked into jail, and stuck inside a cell until going before a judge to answer for their green indiscretions. From there, if convicted — and they surely would be — the offender might find themself carted off to state or federal prison to live out the next several years with the real ruffians of uncivil society. Life as that poor bastard had come to know it was officially over.
Fast forward a few decades, and times have changed. At least to some degree. More than half the United States has some sort of pot law on the books that either allows Americans to consume cannabis for medicinal purposes or gives that right to adults 21 and over. The real upside is that fewer people are getting slammed face down on the pavement and carted off to the pokey for having an appreciation for the herb. All is right in the world. Well, not so fast, maverick!
Prohibition is still alive and well in the so-called Land of the Free. Although there is a political tug of war in Congress with respect to legalizing the leaf at the national level, the federal government still hasn’t budged on bud. Cross Uncle Sam by messing with cannabis — a product that is enjoyed legally by millions of people all over the country — and it could spell serious trouble. Meanwhile, many states are still sticking it to the average stoner, and some of them big time. They are handing down criminal charges for petty possession, drug classes, hefty fines, and even jail time.
It is a little-known fact that tens of thousands of people are still sitting behind bars because of cannabis-related offenses. Jonathan Wall, currently incarcerated at the Chesapeake Detention Facility, a super-maximum jail in Baltimore, Maryland, is one of them. The 27-year-old aspiring cannabis entrepreneur is presently facing 15-years to life for conspiring to traffic pot from California to Maryland. His attorney, Jason Flores-Williams, argues that Uncle Sam’s aggressive pursuit of this young man is nothing short of lunacy. “Our government is locking people in cages for pot while it’s legal to go down to the local strip mall, buy an assault rifle and a fifth of whiskey,” he told High Times. Flores-Williams went on to say: “Corporations around the country are generating billions from the same activity for which my client is facing life in prison.”
Some of the most vocal naysayers of the nug — a title that requires little more than a disconnect from progress and reality — are of the opinion that, despite the herb’s legality in parts of the country, people who are incarcerated for pot must be the dregs of the doob, the scoundrels of a stoned nation: dealers, drug traffickers and violent, weapon-wielding maniacs. Why should they care if any of these people rot in prison? “I don’t want a bunch of saggy-pants thugs in the streets selling weed or anything else to my kids,” Joseph, a 47-year-old factory worker from Lafayette, Indiana, told us. “There are laws in this country for a reason. Some liberal states might not care about addiction and crime, but some of us still do. This country has enough problems.”
There is an apparent communication breakdown between discussing the compassionate release of pot offenders and some slick moves to unleash savage beasts back into productive society. Contrary to what people like Joseph might think, turning loose gun-toting felons who eat young children for breakfast isn’t what’s happening, nor is it the intention of the cannabis movement.
Mariah Daly, a legal fellow at the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), an organization vying for the release of pot offenders nationwide, told High Times that their constituents — the incarcerated men and women they step in to help see the light of day once again — must meet a specific set of criterion to receive the LPP’s assistance. Firstly, the primary offense must be cannabis related. No other illicit substances can be involved in the underlying violation. Next, and perhaps most importantly, the incarcerated individual must be a non-violent offender and not have been convicted of any sex crimes. Nobody is trying to ensure that violent criminals are set free to run amok.
Yes, the people incarcerated for cannabis indeed broke the law. It is important to consider, however, that the punishment didn’t fit the crime.
“Many of our constituents were sentenced to life, de facto life, or 20+ years for their cannabis offense,” Daly said. “No other drugs were involved in the underlying offenses and these men have zero history of violence/sex offenses over the course of their lifetime. Even if you disagree regarding whether cannabis offenders should be incarcerated at all (like say, in convictions “more serious than simple possession”), cannabis offenders who have received excessive sentences should be released.”
The majority of the average, run-of-the-mill cannabis advocates we spoke to about it, some of which are in just as much jeopardy of similar legal consequences, wholeheartedly agree. They contend that society should care just as much about releasing non-violent pot offenders as it does crushing statues of the confederates and uncovering backasswards governmental deceptions like the War on Drugs. At the very least, they should show more interest in freeing discarded offenders than Keeping up with the Kardashians and the release of the McRib. Without correcting the errors of the past, some argue, the country doesn’t stand a chance of experiencing real growth. “Freeing cannabis prisoners is a correction long overdue,” one advocate said.
But why should anyone really care if a bunch of pot prisoners ever get out? Aside from it being a crime in and of itself to simply lock people up for going against the grain of laws that we now know were created out of reefer madness, all the while doing it in a manner that ensured no vile acts were committed against their fellow man, we should — every single one of us — appreciate the volatility of freedom. All it takes is one bad day, and a similar fate could be bestowed upon us.
“Everyone should care about restorative justice in this area because cannabis should never have been illegal in the first place, and because it could easily be anyone in the wrong circumstances,” Morgan Fox, political director of the national cannabis advocacy group NORML told High Times.
“Given the lifelong negative effects and collateral consequences of simply having a criminal record, let alone spending time behind bars, it makes no sense to continue to punish people for federal violations for behavior that is no longer illegal,” he added. “Not only do these direct and collateral effects hinder people from becoming productive, independent members of society and harm their families and communities, but the costs associated with punishing them are an unnecessary drain on the taxpayer.”
The toll of this drain is significant.
According to the latest Federal Register’s Annual Determination of Average Cost of Incarceration (COIF), the average annual COIF for a federal inmate in a federal facility in Fiscal Year 2020 was $39,158 ($120.59 per day). The average annual COIF for a federal inmate in a Residential Reentry Center for FY 2020 was $35,663 ($97.44 per day). Considering roughly 40,000 people are still in cages for non-violent pot offenses, the price tag for keeping them is sheer lunacy.
It is worth noting that arrests for federal cannabis crimes have gone down since 2019. There were fewer than 1,000 people slapped with federal pot charges in 2021. Still, hundreds of thousands are arrested for weed every year, most of which (89%) are for simple possession.
Now, state and federal prisons are not full of harmless pot users who have been stripped from their families forever over a measly joint. That much is true. Still, thousands of these low-end offenders continue to be put through the wringers of the criminal justice system every year, taking it on the chin royally even when the likelihood of spending a day in prison is slim to none.
Most first-time pot offenders are tossed into the system and forced to swallow their fair share of probationary requirements — they can’t smoke weed, can’t be around people who do, can’t leave the state, must attend drug and alcohol classes, pay elaborate fines and court costs, submit to random drug testing, etc. Failure to comply with any of these probationary terms, and, well, there’s a jail cell waiting for them. The punishment for pot possession only gets stiffer with subsequent offenses. In some cases, three-strike rules have put non-violent pot offenders like Missouri’s Jeff Mizanskey in prison for life. In fact, Mizanskey, who had his life sentence commuted in late 2015 by then-Governor Jay Nixon after serving more than two decades behind bars for pot possession, would still be a resident of the Jefferson City Correctional Center today if not for the tireless efforts of lawmakers and cannabis advocacy groups fighting for his release.
A heck of a lot of people like Mr. Mizanskey remain in prison for a plant that’s poised to become one of the most prominent economy boosters this country has witnessed since booze. Some of the latest predictions show the national pot market will be worth nearly $40 billion once Uncle Sam admits to losing the drug war and lets the herb go legal. It means millions of new jobs and a substantial economic boost for everyone from contractors to independent businesses.
Furthermore, most reasonable citizens would agree that the US government’s attitude and behavior toward cannabis offenders is wrong. And according to Stephen Post, campaign strategist for the LPP, the issue hits close to home for many American families. “Given that over a third of United States residents have experienced the trauma of having an immediate family member who has been to jail or prison, I think more people already care about this issue than is realized,” he told us.
For those who don’t give two flying squirts about pot offenders, perhaps it is time to consider the moral argument.
“Communities in the United States need to care about the release of those still imprisoned for cannabis if we are ever going to achieve our nation’s democratic ideal that ‘all men are created equal,’” Post added. “The enforcement of cannabis criminalization is one of this nation’s biggest hypocrisies as tens of thousands remain behind bars, while others are privileged to generate millions of dollars.”
Although progress on Capitol Hill has been slow concerning changing the nation’s weed laws, there is a push, one with bipartisan support, to not only legalize the green at the national level but in a way that also allows for the release of those incarcerated for a variety of cannabis offenses. The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which was just approved by the US House of Representatives and now advances to the Senate for consideration, would allow more states to open cannabis markets to adults 21 and older. It would also ensure that those caught up in the gears of cannabis enforcement over the years are not forgotten. This policy change would come with strict criteria before a pot offender finds a reprieve.
“The MORE Act explicitly limits the charges that are eligible for expungement or resentencing to non-violent cannabis convictions without ‘kingpin’ enhancements,” Fox asserts. “In cases of resentencing of a person who is currently incarcerated on multiple convictions, only the portions of the sentence directly tied to eligible cannabis convictions would be considered and affected, and a judicial panel would weigh all the factors in a person’s case before making final decisions about whether to shorten their sentence.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the MORE Act will go the distance any time soon. Even if the Senate were to give it the favorable attention it deserves — an improbable move considering the power struggle within the upper chamber — President Biden still isn’t willing to give his full support to the cannabis cause. For now, pot offenders all over the country will continue to sit in prison while others (maybe even you) could join them one day. So, if there is a message that needs to be conveyed, according to Flores-Williams, faith that our lawmakers are looking out for our best interests is an ignorant and dangerous position. The time for asking “why” we’re still jailing pot offenders is over. Americans should demand as much from the actions of their government as they do casual society. Where’s the cancel culture when we really need it? Because keeping otherwise innocent people behind bars for weed is the real cancellable offense.
“Try not to be blindly obedient,” Flores-Williams advises. “The law and justice are different things, and to blindly follow the law without any concern for justice reduces you to a non-citizen. “That said, I don’t know anyone who thinks that someone should be doing life in prison for pot in 2022. Except maybe a DEA agent whose job depends on it.”
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