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© 2018 MERRY JANE. All Rights Reserved.

Prohibition's Poster Boy: My Life with Marijuana, Inside Prison and Out

At the age of 20, I was facing multiple decades in prison for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. The federal government wasn’t playing when it came to prohibition, and I learned the hard way.

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"I couldn't help but feel that I had been wronged as I became something of a poster boy for America's ever-expanding war on drugs. The mainstream news media began telling the story about the white boy from the suburbs who became a runaway kingpin on the US Marshals' Top 15 Most Wanted list…"

The first time I smoked pot I was 13-years-old. It was the summer of 1984, between 7th and 8th grade. I was a California kid who played basketball, rode dirt bikes, and skateboarded — a run-of-the-mill teenager looking for direction in my life. A bunch of kids at school were experimenting with marijuana and a couple of my friends from the basketball team wanted to see what it was all about. We scored a dime bag of Thai Stick from this dude with Jheri curls named Kenny, then went to my buddy's garage to fire it up.

I can't even remember if I got high or not. But that first joint led to another, and in no time I was a full-fledged stoner. Though some people can utilize cannabis to enhance their day-to-day life, I was not that person. Not long after that inaugural zoot, I went from honor roll and starting positions on sports team at my junior high to a Jeff Spicoli wannabe. Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Breakfast Club were at the height of pop culture, and I envisioned myself as the kind of counterculture suburban outlaw embodied by Sean Penn and Judd Nelson. I was into 1984, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Naked Lunch, and marijuana gave me the vibe I was looking for as a strapping, freewheelin' guy just out of his salad days.

You could find good weed in Cali, even back in the '80s. But we were getting strains from overseas like the aforementioned Thai Stick, as well as Maui Wowie and Colombian Gold. Domestic weed — at least the stuff we had access to — was garbage. Once, I bought an ounce of homegrown for $80, but it was mostly shake. I was pissed, but I smoked it anyway. What's a toker to do? I had no idea about the coming War on Drugs and all that it would entail, but I remember kids getting busted for weed and snitching out their entire high schools. This was the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" era, and they kept those "This is your brain on drugs" PSAs in regular rotation.

"When I found out that weed was scarce and LSD nonexistent in my new home state, I got a package sent overnight from the West Coast. That was the beginning of my drug war journey, a journey that included marijuana every step of the way."

Not that I gave two fucks. I embraced marijuana culture with abandon, and when I found out I could smoke for free by scoring for my friends, I started dealing. By this time, my parents had moved to Northern Virginia, outside of Washington D.C. I was the quintessential Cali kid transplanted in the lily-white and affluent suburbs of Americana. When I found out that weed was scarce and LSD nonexistent in my new state, I got a package sent overnight from the West Coast. That was the beginning of my drug war journey, a journey that included marijuana every step of the way.

I progressed rapidly from selling quarters to delivering pounds of weed to colleges all around my home base in Virginia. I was mostly buying brick pot from Mexicans in Florida and Texas. It was cheap at $300-400 a pound, plentiful, and moved fast. I used to fly down to Dallas, buy 50 pounds, pack it in my suitcase, check it, and fly back to D.C. Crazy when you think about how the airports are now, but back then you could get away with shit like that. I would sell the pressed Mexican weed for upwards of $1200 a pound. Sometimes the supply of bud was so scarce in my area that my stash would fly out the door.

We called it "commercial bud," and in retrospect it wasn't very good. A ten-pound slab would be four inches wide and about a foot-and-a-half long. I would put it in the microwave — to expand it — throw it in a hefty bag, cut up a bag of lemons and limes, throw them in too, and then let the stash sit for three or four days. This would kill the ammonia smell that the uncured Mexican weed reeked of after I put in the microwave. For a final touch, I would spray Sprite on the surface to give the appearance of THC crystals. I called it "Tutti Frutti" and everyone loved it.

Eventually, I got hooked up with some growers in Kentucky through connections I made while following The Grateful Dead on tour. I was a faux-Deadhead who was more into the scene than the music, but I discovered you could find the most exotic drugs and the best weed on "Shakedown Street," the open-air drug market that accompanied every gig. We called the weed there "The Kind," as in kind bud. To my later detriment, I also began dabbling in LSD, which was plentiful on tour. I would take tens of thousands of dollars and buy the good green Kentucky outdoor pot, plus sheets of blotter paper, that Deadheads loved. I was still doing my college circuit with the brick pot, but flipping 20 pounds of kind bud at concerts became my new side hustle.

Unfortunately, it didn't last very long. I was choosing a career as a drug dealer at the worst possible moment. The War on Drugs was in full effect by the end of the '80s, and I would get caught up in it beyond my wildest nightmares. But I didn't get busted for weed. It was the acid that did me in. I got arrested for an LSD conspiracy in the summer of 1991, and my world fell apart. It was like that Jimi Hendrix song: "Castles made of sand slip into the sea, eventually."

At the age of 20, I was facing multiple decades in prison for a first-time, nonviolent offense. The federal government wasn't playing when it came to drugs. After locking up all the crack dealers in the late '80s, they started going after marijuana and LSD dealers. After being arrested, I was given two choices: cooperate or go to prison. I chose neither and took the "fuck off" route. I had a little money stashed away, and said to myself, I'm outta here. Not the smartest move, and for the next two years, I was a fugitive. For whatever reason, the U.S. Marshals even put me on the Top 15 Most Wanted List.

I went back to Cali to hide out in Los Angeles, and eventually found myself back in Texas after my money ran out. I hooked up with my Mexican connects there, and started taking loads of weed up to St. Louis, Missouri on Amtrak. It was still brick pot, but the Mexicans' growing skills were getting better. In October 1993, I was caught in St. Louis on a small-time weed bust. The local narcotics task force matched up my prints, and I was extradited back to Virginia to face the music.

After years of regular and consistent toking, things were about to change. In prison, I immediately stopped smoking weed. I had a lot more pressing things to worry about than getting high. You could say I went cold turkey, but of course there were no withdrawal symptoms. I spent months in the county jail sober, before I got sentenced to 304 months and was shipped off to FCI Manchester, a federal prison in Kentucky. On the bus to jail, I got reacquainted with a Virginia homeboy of mine who said he could get us some weed when we hit the yard. It turned out to be pretty bad quality, but after six months without any grass, it was like smoking for the first time again. My love affair with marijuana was back on.

"At the age of 20, I was facing multiple decades in prison for a first-time, nonviolent offense. The federal government wasn't playing when it came to drugs — even weed."

At FCI Manchester, we would walk around the track in the yard and smoke joints. But these were pinner joints. You would maybe get four or five hits off them. The speckles of weed that were leftover when you rolled a joint on the street would go for big money in prison. I used to buy a Chapstick cap full of weed for $25 and I could get 4 pinner joints out of it. I remember the saying "Don't bogart that joint" from when I was growing up, but in prison that was the law. Violate it and get your head cracked. Dudes weren't playing when it came to their smoke.

I got very involved in the weed trade on the compound, and even started buying ounces for $500-600 a pop. I would break the ounce down into 60 Chapstick caps, and sell them for $25 a piece, doubling my money. This allowed me to have crazy commissary — meaning my prison bank account was flushed — smoke for free, and enjoy the prestige of being the weed man on the yard. It was rare that we got any good bud, but weed was coming into the prison though the mail, over the fence, and though the visiting room. We even had cops that would bring in quarter-pounds of pot at a time.

For my first nine years inside, I kept smoking, buying, and smuggling marijuana into the belly of the beast. But by the end of the '90s, the Federal Bureau of Prisons was busting people for weed and tacking on extra time to their sentences. When one of my close friends got an additional nine months added to his sentence for specks of the plant found at the bottom of an envelope at FCI Fairton in New Jersey, I decided it was time to take a more serious hiatus from herb. Well, at least temporarily. I was doing a ton of time already, and figured I didn't need to risk getting more added to my sentence. So I pulled a Woody Harrelson, and gave up marijuana for the remaining 12 years I had to serve.

The author, writing while locked up in prison

When I got out in 2014 and went to a halfway house, I had to continue towing the line in regards to marijuana consumption. I had made a personal choice in prison, but the world that I returned to as a 43-year-old was suddenly 420-friendly. I had to pinch myself — I'd been a marijuana O.G.! A crusader in the cause, sacrificing my freedom to make sure my peers had reefer to smoke. Not because I was a badass, but because I believed weed was righteous and should be legal. Plus, let's be honest, I liked smoking for free. And now, the cause I championed was back in vogue. In a strange kind of way, I felt justified.

"The world that I returned to as a 43-year-old was suddenly 420-friendly. I had to pinch myself — I'd been a marijuana O.G.! A crusader in the cause, sacrificing my freedom to make sure my peers had reefer to smoke."

The days of Mexican brick pot were gone. It was a brave new world for weed. But I couldn't indulge, as I was still subject to urine tests. From the halfway house, I'd scour the internet to look at the images of modern bud and all the different strains that were foreign to me. It reminded me of the first time I cracked open an issue of High Times, but on steroids. I couldn't wait to get out of the halfway house and off probation so that I could smoke again. I was a stoner at heart. Marijuana was my true calling, and I could tell that the bud people were smoking nowadays was super, super kind.

I was sentenced to eight years of federal probation, though. Even after I got out of the halfway house, it would be a while before I could partake again. After doing 21 years in prison, there was no way I was going back, especially for dirty urine. So I continued to abstain throughout my six months in the halfway house. I saw guys I got released with get dirties and go back in, which I thought was crazy. I love marijuana, but I love my freedom more. I had a little latitude to drink. But that was it.

My transition back to the outside world was fairly seamless. I had prepared myself thoroughly in prison and was ready for the rigors of society. In all honesty, I would have traded the halfway house/work release situation for any day that I did in prison. Just going out to work was a thrill for me. My probation officer immediately told me that I was the perfect candidate for early probation termination. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. With eight years left, getting off probation was the furthest thing on my mind. It looked like my reunion with marijuana would come a lot sooner than expected.

All the paperwork was in. My probation officer did me a solid. The date was set and boom — I jumped the gun. One week before I was supposed to get off probation, I smoked some New York Diesel with a friend. I remember that night very vividly. It was the first time I'd gotten high in 14 years, and it just happened that a snowstorm hit Missouri while we were blazing up. The weed was truly dank as fuck, and way stronger than anything I'd smoked while locked up. Here I was, stoned to the bone like a newbie, driving home in the blizzard. snow. It was a long and strange trip, to say the least.

The author, in his forties

I made it home safe, but disaster struck. My probation officer informed me that the judge wouldn't grant my probation for two more weeks. I immediately thought it was a set-up and that they were going to give me one last piss test. If that was the case, I'd violate my probation and get sent back to prison. I was shook, but I didn't let it mess with my head too much. I'd copped an ounce of Blue Dream from my friend who got regular shipments of bud from Colorado and was smoking it everyday like a fiend. A bit pricey from what I remembered at $325 an ounce, but I was in Missouri.

I went to the head shop and bought something to clean my urine just in case I was called in to piss. Luckily, they never called me, and I got off probation two weeks later without an issue. I was finally free and it was the greatest feeling in the world. I got a passport and immediately went to Jamaica to celebrate — the ultimate stoner getaway. I got some nice, big buds for about $100 and smoked like crazy in the inclusive resort for a full week.

I spent my first decade in prison in utter disbelief. I was angry, shocked, and outraged that I got locked up for marijuana and acid. I was sentenced to more time than the entirety of my existence on this verdant planet. It's now been 27 years since I was originally charged with a felony drug offense, and my feelings towards cannabis haven't changed. I still think it's a magical herb, and the fact that so many people in this country get punished for using it should be the real crime. No one should lose their youth — or life — for a plant, whether it's Sprite-doused "Tutti Frutti" or fresh Thai Stick covered in real THC crystals.

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