All images courtesy of Charlo Greene
Charlo Greene is a broadcast journalist and media expert turned activist and businesswoman. Charlo went viral in 2014 when she proudly declared her activism and signed off for the last time with, "Fuck it, I quit…" on live TV. Immediately after her exit, she successfully led the charge in Alaska's effort to legalize recreational marijuana.
In 2015, Greene's Alaska Cannabis Club was raided by the police twice, leading to Charlo's prosecution. The authorities charged her with several counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance, despite the state voting to approve adult-use legalization in 2014. If convicted, she could face upwards of 50 years in prison.
Earlier this month, Greene released the memoir "F*ck It: A Guide to Letting Go & Living Free," and MERRY JANE is excerpting a section of it. To purchase the full book, and to support Charlo as her court date approaches, visit her website here.
My mom led me to my career as a journalist. And years later, my career in journalism led me to activism. I left my career as a journalist to lead the charge to legalize recreational marijuana in Alaska, my home state, in 2014. But, leading up to that point was a long and sad history of using cannabis as a tool for oppression not just in Alaska, but the United States as a whole.
The War on Drugs has targeted urban communities since the 1900s, particularly in regard to the use of marijuana. So even though white people consume cannabis at the same rate as black and Hispanic people, minorities were and continue to be disproportionately policed and prosecuted for it. For example, in places like Iowa, D.C., Minnesota, and Illinois in 2010, black people were about eight times more likely to be arrested than white people for having weed, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. And nationwide, it wasn't much better, seeing as black people were four times more likely to be arrested for pot than their white counterparts. And because police target people in poorer communities, with fewer resources to fight these kinds of charges, marijuana arrests are responsible for more people serving time in jail than actual violent offenders and for people arrested for all other drugs combined.
These targeted marijuana arrests have helped to fuel the mass incarceration crisis that's been coined "The New Jim Crow" by civil rights activist and author Michelle Alexander, where the for-profit policing and jailing of black and brown people has led to a new normal in our nation. A normal where the incarceration of minorities results in billions of dollars in revenue for privately-owned prisons and financial incentives that trickle directly down to local police departments to incentivize the continued disenfranchisement of people of color — people that look like me… And there my naive black ass was, fighting to dismantle what I saw was the cornerstone of that predatory system in my state: marijuana prohibition. I was drawing the attention of the entire world while challenging the delicate status quo that powerful, vocal members of my community didn't want challenged and that could cost my state's prison system and police millions of dollars in lost money, with them no longer being able to incarcerate people for weed.
I dove head first into a justice reform campaign that my community was not ready for. Had I known the political backlash I would face, the SWAT raids, the hateful attacks on my character, and the 10 felonies and 4 misdemeanors for my advocacy, I definitely would have approached things differently. Nonetheless, I'm facing a lifetime in prison because I wanted to change things. I wanted to help. So I helped create the Alaska Cannabis Club.
At the club, our goal was always to help the people that everyone else had turned their backs on. And there are countless stories that prove it was doing just that, like Samantha's. Sam was a 72-year-old woman living with a neurological disorder that would, according to her doctors, claim her life. In search of relief from the unending pain, her doctor prescribed her every pharmaceutical he could and none of them worked. He figured that since Sam did not have much time left, he might as well write her a prescription for medical marijuana, but when she asked her doctor where to get that medical cannabis she so desperately needed — cannabis that had been legal in her state since 1998 — he told her to go find it in a back alley. That's right.
Medical cannabis had been legal for 16 years, but the sickest, most vulnerable among us couldn't get their hands on it without consulting a fucking drug dealer. Why? Because our conservative state government had designed it that way, without regard for the thousands of registered medical marijuana patients they were forcing to feed the illicit market. As Kennedy once said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." And I agree, so when I learned about the catch-22 my home state's patients had been facing for a decade and a half, when I met the members of my community that were suffering, I created an online network I named the Alaska Cannabis Club.
Out of desperation, Sam followed her doctor's instructions and literally went looking for drug dealers. At 72. The first time she met with a dealer, not surprisingly, she was robbed. She said she tried again, and this time she was robbed with a gun in her face. Samantha needed medical cannabis. She needed it to live, and there wasn't a doctor around who could get it for her even though it was 100% legal! That's when she said she reached the end of her rope. She was in so much pain and was so desperate for help that she prayed. Sam said she prayed for the first time in a long time; I was 26-years-old at the time, and Sam said up until that moment, she hadn't prayed since before I had been born.
She broke down begging God for relief, then according to her, she felt drawn to her computer. She did a Google search, and wouldn't you know it, the Alaska Cannabis Club was the first result on her screen. The very next day we were able to connect her to our private group of medical marijuana patients who managed to get her the relief she had just prayed for, and I was the one to deliver the good news to her. There she stood at 72, just over six feet tall. She looked like she had been strong all her life, but in this moment, she was broken open with tears running down her face, telling me between sobs that the network that I had been called to create, the Alaska Cannabis Club, had just renewed her faith in God.
I could share hundreds of similar stories that attest to the good the Alaska Cannabis Club was doing, all while staying within the bounds of the law. Yet, despite all of the good, the Club and I became a target. When recreational weed became legal, a hell storm came down like no other. Our state government deemed me the enemy. Lil ol' me was the enemy, despite the number of other people profiting off all of my viral sacrifice and the hard work that followed to get past legalization.
After raiding the Alaska Cannabis Club in summer 2016, the state levied 14 charges against me that amounted to a 54-year sentence after recreational cannabis legalization, while a white guy named Brock Turner only served three months for raping an unconscious woman. Brock would have had to rape two hundred and sixteen women to get the same sentence I'm facing. Two hundred and sixteen women! That logic boils down to what on the surface seems like insanity but in truth is exactly how our justice system — or The New Jim Crow — was designed to operate: being overly punitive for offenses committed by people of color to turn them into commodities, while giving others with resources a way to buy their way out of seeing justice for their crimes.
Underestimating the journey ahead of me was my error. I failed to follow Rule #1: See your situation for exactly what it is. And while I managed to overcome so much adversity, from raising my siblings and myself after our parents abandoned us, overcoming sexual assault, to stripping my way through college, earning a degree and becoming a familiar face on the evening news, from the moment I began challenging this system, I became public enemy number one.
I failed to see and accept the fact that I live in an America that'll fight against change in the status quo by any means necessary. Even if that means throwing a potential 54-year prison sentence at me for legal weed.