By Jonathan Wall
My name is Jonathan Wall, I am twenty-six years old and a federal prisoner incarcerated for the last thirteen months at the Chesapeake Detention Facility, a maximum security lockup located in Baltimore, Maryland that is commonly referred to as “CDX” as well as the “super-max”. Presently, I am awaiting trial in federal court and if convicted I stand to receive a prison sentence of anywhere from the mandatory minimum of ten years up to life imprisonment, all of it without any possibility of parole. What am I here for? Well I did not kill anyone or steal anything. Nobody was kidnapped, nor did I rape anybody or commit any sort of sexual assault, although somehow if I had I would be subject to significantly less prison time according to the federal sentencing guidelines. No, the alleged offense that the federal government is squandering the taxpayer’s money, your money, on housing and prosecuting me is for conspiring to distribute cannabis.
I know what you’re thinking, “Rape less serious than weed? How can it be that the punishment for conspiring to distribute cannabis is so severe, especially in this day and age with widespread decriminalization, as well as cannabis now either recreationally or medicinally legal in the majority of the states and territories that comprise this country? We’re in the middle of 2021, not the middle of the 1980’s.” And you know what? You’d be justified in your skepticism. It’s no secret that the states and local municipalities that this nation consists of have made great advancements in both the liberation of the cannabis plant in addition to providing legal protection to the men and woman who choose to use it. But the federal government on the other hand? They certainly don’t accurately represent the general consensus amongst the American public in regard to cannabis’s legitimacy. The federal government still classifies cannabis as a schedule one controlled dangerous substance, meaning no medicinal value, highly addictive, and causes death. Those are literally by definition of the DEA’s prerequisites required in order for a substance to attain schedule one status. Which means cannabis is categorized amongst heroin and crystal methamphetamine as equals in the same class. But that isn’t even where the absurdity ends. The federal government classifies cocaine as a schedule two and fentanyl at an even lower precedence on their scale of priorities/dangers to society as a schedule three controlled dangerous substance.
Please don’t be fooled into chalking this up as some sort of archaic mistake left over from the days when Nancy Reagan equated the supposed brain damage from cannabis use to the frying of an egg. No, the DEA holds an annual meeting where the top-brass convene for the sole purpose of examining their controlled dangerous substance classification groups, already scheduled substances to a more appropriate section of their code, based upon any new and relevant information that has come to light regarding their nature or uses previously unknown for the substance.
So why does the federal government, and the DEA in particular, vehemently deny any possibility of merit in this protean remedy that Americans of every walk of life use to successfully treat and expansive litany of medical conditions including glaucoma, chronic pain, and epilepsy just to name a few? Could this have something to do with large pharmaceutical corporations lobbying to maintain their stronghold monopoly on American medicine and keep Americans hooked to their dangerous synthetic drugs and sucking on fentanyl lollipops? After all, it’s inconceivable of a worse calamity for Pfizer, Purdue, or any of the other titanic pharmaceutical conglomerates that conduct business in this country, than for the American public having access to a holistic panacea that can be grown in their own closet or backyard.
Just in case that wasn’t already enough cause for a naturally occurring plant that’s use has never resulted in a single over-dose fatality, let alone a sole physical symptom of dependence, to be annually categorized as an arch nemesis of humanity equivalent to heroin. It’s only because there’s still more money to be followed. Just observe the abundance of funds that the public had to collectively cough up over the years in order to finance law enforcement’s ceaseless crusade of eradication, which has only precipitated in becoming the lifeblood of the modern day police-state. The fruit of which has cataloged every local sheriff’s department across the country into closer resembling special forces battalions than domestic civil servants. The only similarity with this so-called “war on drugs” and every other American war is that it has prompted a flood of money to pour out of American households. The major difference is that the neighborhood of which you reside has become the frontline where police are given impunity to ransack your home and rip your neighbors out of their vehicles and subsequently gun them down in the streets like dogs; all because of the accusatory smell of cannabis. Additionally, this war, by design (considering the enemy is an inanimate object) was never intended to end. It’s been going on for half a century in official rhetoric and twice that amount of time in government policy, with no closure even remotely in sight. Add all of that to the cost of imprisoning the predominantly nonviolent offenders. It is abundantly apparent that we as a nation have become the victims of a racket and graft of such egregious proportion that it’s evident the sparse public will do anything to protect and perpetuate their scam. So one can only suppose that it must be quite a boon to them that unless the American people somehow manage to collectively organize beyond their many petty squabbles and disputes (with many of those disputes manufactured with the intention to solely sow discord) and actually demand from lawmakers outright legislative reform, the few who profit from this systematic artifice are structured to enjoy omnipotent authority over the federal legal status of cannabis. After all, how can we expect any referendum or formative change when the very existence of this issue without solution only leads to more money being bled from the American people in public coffers, of which only politicians and bureaucrats have access to?
America, long ago, was dubbed as the land of opportunity. A land where regardless of one’s background, an individual could come, and with diligence and hard work, be ensured to reap the fruits of their labor. But with federal prohibition and potential prosecution looming over every individual state-licensed cannabis operation like a thunderhead that could either bring a tempest or blow over. Who are the people that really thrive and prosper in these quasi-legal, state-sanctioned cannabis markets? Certainly not the proletariat. Due to federal illegality, it’s strictly forbidden for banks to assist or conduct business with cannabis ventures. If one does not already have deep pockets or access to large investment capital, it’s a mortally arduous task to establish oneself, let alone to complete and flourish. Could this be by design, a manipulation of the free-market into something more sinister and selective to ensure that the spoils of the emerging, legal cannabis industry remain among the affluent, rather than find their way into the hands of those in more marginalized groups of society, whom federal prohibition has undeniably impacted the most? All it takes is a gander at the lack of cannabis arrest of white Americans compared to that of their counterparts of either African or Latin X heritage, despite the rates of use being universally tantamount across the board. Yet consequently when it comes to legal cannabis operations, along with their limited and coveted licenses, there is a disproportionate majority owned and possess by white Americans.
The establishment’s war on the cannabis plant and the people who use it has been a calculated offensive waged upon both minority communities and the counterculture all in one swipe. Although it being a “two birds stoned at once” objective, minority communities undoubtedly have paid the heaviest price, with the establishment playing off of the general consensus of bigotry amongst America during the twentieth century to further their agenda. It certainly doesn’t take a considerable amount of time researching to find veritable proof, given how much of the program has been steeped in racist propaganda. Note the etymology of the term “marijuana” for instance, arguable the most commonly used moniker for cannabis and the actual name used by the federal government in their United States Code. It’s not cannabis in Spanish. It’s nothing more than a racial epithet, concocted and coined in the days of the early “Reefer Madness” campaign nearly a hundred years ago. It was designed to insinuate the cannabis plant as a demonic drug with roots in hell and implied to only be used by people with African and Hispanic backgrounds. Well in consequence now a century later those communities have paid a heavy price due to federal prohibition and are beyond entitled to their fair share of fiscal opportunity and involvement in a forthcoming industry estimated to be work many billions of dollars a year.
One cannot discuss marginalized groups in society who’ve been impacted by this war on the American people by ruse of the cannabis plant without mentioning the societal caste most afflicted by federal cannabis prohibition. The felons with cannabis charges who’ve spent years, if lucky, and decades on average wasting away in the bowels of the American Gulag, only to come home marked and defiled by their criminal records as they reentered society and strived to stay there. Where’s their place at the table that they frankly built? After all, there’s no denying that if it weren’t for the men and women of the cannabis underground ignoring the Harry Anslingers, Richard Nixons, Jeff Sessions of the world by flouting their antiquated, erroneous laws and at time sacrificing their lives to be prostrated in the dungeons of the proclaimed “Land of the Free”, without those brave souls paving the way, there wouldn’t be a “Green Rush”. The newest apparent manifestation of the American Dream that’s luring new participants hoping to cash in from far and wide. Well now that there’s limited legal avenues to participate in this emerging endeavor, it can’t come as much of a surprise to most to learn that felons are ubiquitously forbidden from participation in this so-called “Green Rush”. With the only exceptions being in the two California cities of Los Angeles and Oakland allowing licenses to be obtained by the previously incarcerated.
It becomes painfully obvious that our government, which proclaims to be a democratic representation of the people, adhering to free-market values, can in fact be resemblant of something more nefarious, closer akin to a corporate oligarchy vested in demarcated opportunism. When it’s permissible for someone like John Boehner, the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives (who spent all of his time in office conspiring with his cronies to hamper then-President Obama, rather than dedicating a moment of his time to the emancipation of the cannabis plant) can now sit on the corporate board of Acreage Holdings, the single-largest, publicly-traded cannabis company in the world. When meanwhile regular Americans, like myself, not only face permanent exclusion from staking their claim and participating in this “Green Rush” if they’ve served time in prison for the same activity when it was wrongfully illegal, but also still potential decades in a cage because the federal government still continues to prosecute those without political clout whom they happen to find in their cross-hairs for cannabis. For truly the only thing conceivably more ludicrous than corporate and elite America’s attempts to monopolize and take over the cannabis industry is the fact that the United States government still actively pursues the prosecution of its own citizens for alleged involvement in conspiring to cultivate or distribute the same ancient and mysterious, green spikey-leafed plant that companies are currently attempting to copyright individual strains of. Because when the only difference separating an entrepreneurial pioneer on the cutting edge of industry ringing the bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and a convict condemned to over a decade out of his life to be languished in a federal penitentiary sitting up in his bunk in the middle of the night for the 2 am-head-count is a greased handshake with a nod from Uncle Sam. Ludicrous doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface in encapsulating this dichotomy. Have we not reached a point where the only remaining option for us a people is to unite and rise up as a nation to demand an overhaul of this systemic nepotism we call our criminal justice system that by design eliminates competition to the elites by persecuting our brothers and sister, fathers and sons, our mothers and daughters, the very people who make up the bedrock to the fabric of this country? Or are we going to continue to allow this system to bankrupt us in the process as it simultaneously enriches the aristocracy and Corporate America in their games of further division as they continue to chop this county up more and more amongst themselves, leaving us out to ultimately pay the price?
Jonathan Wall is incarcerated at the maximum security prison - the "supermax" Chesapeake Detention Facility located in Baltimore, Maryland. Jonathan is awaiting trial in federal court where if convicted he face a sentence of anywhere from the mandatory minimum of ten years to life imprisonment - all without ever having any possibility for parole.
Cannabis Prisoner #