Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I write these words you see before you from the dark confines of “the hole” inside the United States Penitentiary at Lompoc. As many of you are aware, my brother Ricardo and I are serving 20-year prison terms for legally operating a medical cannabis dispensary in Modesto, California.
Some of the leaders of our cause criticized us for opening a dispensary in a conservative and inhospitable area of central California. They told us to wait and find a place where the local government was more liberal and accepting of medicinal marijuana. We considered their fears and advice but what history has taught us is that there is rarely a perfect moment or perfect place when you are trying to correct an injustice. When you feel your cause is morally right before God the perfect time is now and the perfect place is here.
I was born and raised on the fertile soil of the California Central Valley. We knew the plights of the people. We knew both young and elderly; both sick and dying were traveling many miles across the state to obtain treatment their local doctors were recommending. Why should they have to endure such hardship?
When the Compassionate Use Act legalized medical marijuana in California in 1996, its implementation was not left up to local officials, whether or not they agreed with the law. The people passed it and our elected officials are in office to represent the will of the people. Therefore, we decided to move forward with our plans and open the dispensary in Modesto. We knew full well we would be met with hostility from the local government and the police force because our establishment represented progress and threatened an outdated and misguided prejudice.
Places of darkness are where light is needed most. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not march in New York City or Los Angeles where people were more accepting of civil rights. No, he walked through the streets of the segregated South where he knew opposition was the strongest, but also where there was the greatest need for change.
Our movement’s speakers have admonished me for making a music video in which I criticized the federal government while operating a dispensary. They said it caused undue attention to establishment of dispensaries and my defiance provoked federal wrath. I admit both allegations are true.
However, positive change does not come by staying silent. The highest form of patriotism in a democracy is to voice one’s dissent of the ruling party. Absolute power will cede nothing without being challenged. Were my words not representative of the frustration our entire movement felt with the federal oppression of our rights? Have the steps Colorado and Washington took in the face of federal opposition not loudly and substantially shifted the playing field?
These actions are taken from the rooftops by bold pioneers, not from candle lit basements with whispers. Know that I speak the truth when I say there are few in this movement who have paid a higher price for this progress than cannabis prisoners of war. We have been in this country’s horrific jails and prisons. We endure their inhumane conditions.
Nevertheless, an even higher price is being paid by our children who suffer dearly because of our absence.
However, it is not the purpose of this letter to tell the story of a few individuals, but rather, to bring together a great movement. The medical, legalization and drug policy reform organizations have, for far too long, been separated under the pretext that our goals are not the same.
In fact, there is in-fighting and strategic disputes within the groups themselves. The elephant in the room of the medical cannabis circle is that its goals and the goals of legalization and reform groups are actually one in the same. Some feel this revelation, boldly and publicly stated, would somehow diminish the legitimacy of medical cannabis.
I disagree. Allow me to be very clear. In 2014 no one of sound reason can dispute marijuana’s efficacy as a medicine. In truth our converging movements actually enhance each other.
In many aspects medicinal marijuana has paved the way for legalization of marijuana. Since the mid-’90s when medical cannabis first became legally available, the American public has realized that decades of misinformation and dire predictions of community harm have failed to materialize. As a result, public opinion in favor of legalization has steadily increased.
Colorado is an excellent example of this cause and effect. The state’s medical dispensaries, along with their infrastructure, were the models and prototypes for what soon became the retail store of legalization. Colorado tested its distribution system with its medical dispensaries and as a result of its rigorous regulation and success, alleviated federal concerns and felt comfortable moving forward with their recreational retail establishments.
If shadows of doubt still exist from the medical viewpoint it is time we ask ourselves a question: Is the woman who works 10 long hours at her office or the man who puts in a laborious day at the construction site and would like to relieve their stress or aching bodies less entitled to cannabis than the athlete with migraines or the retiree with arthritis? I used to be one of those in the medical cannabis ranks who did not support complete legalization. But I can no longer take that position. To do so would be hypocrisy.
It is time we all arrive on the same page of history. In no uncertain terms, I am formally calling everyone to the table. All of our organizations which support cannabis regardless of reasons. All of our advocacy groups which think marijuana laws should be reformed. All of our citizenry who believe no one should go to jail for growing or legally selling a natural and miraculous plant. It is time we see past our individual goals and differences. See past our state citizenships, our races, our sexual orientations, our ages and our political affiliations.
It is time we say we will not tolerate a country where a white man in Seattle can purchase a daily amount of marijuana and receive a discount and a smile, but a black woman in Alabama who does the same receives a decade in prison. The disparity is egregious!
During the American Revolution Benjamin Franklin wrote that we must stick together or we shall surely hang separately. An idea that resonates today. Our time is now. The climate has never been riper for action. Our unharnessed strength lies in our vast numbers. The people of this country overwhelming support the goal of nationwide legalization. The next step is up to us. It is vital we embrace one another and each associated legalization cause and become a united front. The course of our country’s marijuana laws and the future of generations to follow depend upon us.
Your humble servant,
Send a letter to Luke:
Luke Scarmazzo 63131-097
3901 Klein Blvd.
Lompoc, CA 93434