“While the rest of America is gearing up to celebrate 420,” writes Mary Bailey, “cannabis prisoners are languishing in a prison cell.”
Bailey is the Managing Director of the Last Prisoner Project, a restorative justice nonprofit that works to free the nearly 40,000 people incarcerated nationwide on cannabis-related charges. Although 37 states have legalized some form of medical cannabis, with 18 of those states and Washington, D.C. also legalizing recreational use, there are still thousands of people waiting on clemency and release due to the harmful policies instituted by the War on Drugs. Even more are working on re-entry after incarceration, trying to rebuild their lives with few resources, employment opportunities or housing options.
For all those whose lives have been upended by cannabis convictions, the "high holiday" of 420 - National Cannabis Day - means something very different than lighting up with friends. Bailey recently asked incarcerated cannabis prisoners to answer the question of what 420 signifies to them. They responded by sharing the touching, very personal letters below.
Read on to learn how someone locked up in prison because of a cannabis plant feels about 420. In this national holiday, we hope you will remember those still suffering in the unequal War on Drugs.
World Cannabis Day 4/20
By Rudi Gammo
Cannabis Prisoner & Advocate in Michigan
The date 4/20, the number 420, and the time 4:20 symbolize so much more to me now than when I was growing up. To me, it now symbolizes the movement for the legalization of cannabis worldwide and it should not be taken lightly. As one of Michigan's advocates who helped change the city of Detroit's ordinance and open one of the first dispensaries in Detroit, I was still celebrating 4/20 by sharing cannabis with the patients that supported Green Cross Detroit, friends, and family. Of course, I also had a joint on my lips all day. That was 4/20.
After sitting in prison for 4 years and not being able to celebrate or help with the movement. I see things in a whole new light. All is well with celebrating 420 (smoking, vaping, dabbing, eating till you can't eat anymore) but what needs to be recognized is that there are cannabis prisoners sitting in jail or prison. These people’s lives have been affected because of criminal records due to the criminalization of cannabis. I'm one of those people.
When I was younger, I remember people judging me because I used cannabis. The Chaldean-Iraqi community from Detroit is highly involved in every aspect of the cannabis market. These are some of the same peers, parents, aunties, uncles, community members that used to look down on me because of my involvement with cannabis as a young adult. I remember the parents of a girl I dated made her stop seeing me because I sold and used cannabis. I always think of how my life would be different if those same people that are profiting now from the cannabis market had accepted me for who I was. I always think of how would my life be different.
Now one of the things we need to do on 4/20 is to call on our lawmakers to free cannabis prisoners, to change the law in the states where people are still suffering from cannabis in any way, shape, or form. This is what we stand for in America, our freedom to choose what medication or recreational activity we want to do as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. I'm so tired of hearing "if we legalize cannabis then we should just legalize every drug.”
Because of Covid, nowadays the air we breathe can kill us but governments around the world still want to lock you up and ruin your life for cannabis. I hope and pray that my point of view of 4/20 can be shared and doesn't offend anybody. This is what 420 means to me now. God Bless and Happy 420!
Rudi Gammo is the father of 3 and was the owner of a Detroit city-sanctioned dispensary before being sentenced to 5.5 years for a cannabis charge in 2018.
To find out how you can help in the release of 40k cannabis inmates, visit https://www.lastprisonerproject.org/ and learn about the multitude of ways that you can get involved. https://www.lastprisonerproject.org/takeaction