Patricia Spottedcrow, an Oklahoma woman who was sentenced to 12 years for selling $31 worth of pot, with no prior convictions, was released from prison yesterday (Thursday, November 29th), after serving almost two years of her twelve-year sentence.
Her case received significant coverage after the story was featured in 2011 Tulsa World series on why Oklahoma ranks number one for sending more women to prison per capita, than any other state. Grassroots organizers then rallied together to bring attention to this egregious example of our overzealous sentencing for marijuana-related crimes. It worked, outrage spread far and wide.
After several targeted campaigns to local law enforcement and elected officials, as well as an especially strong grassroots effort spearheaded by outraged mothers and reformers, the lobbying paid off. Officials decided to reconsider her twelve-year sentence.
In July of this year, upon the unanimous recommendation of the Pardon and Parole Board, Gov. Fallin agreed to approve her parole, contingent upon her completion of the community service part of her sentence. Today, Spottedcrow is a free woman that has since been reunited with her family and her three small children.
After spending over two years in prison, Patricia Spottedcrow greets her children when they get home from school. from Tulsa World on Vimeo. (Try this too: http://vimeo.com/54579830#at=0)
The NORML Women’s Alliance was deeply involved with this effort, as well as providing personal support to Patricia Spottedcrow through a formal letter writing campaign. She received an outpouring of support and sent the Alliance a personal thank you letter.
“This is an inspirational reminder that justice still exists. It proves that with cooperation and determination, grassroots efforts truly can make a significant difference in people’s lives,” said Sabrina Fendrick, Founder and Director of the NORML Women’s Alliance.
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This week: A new poll shows an overwhelming number of Americans are against prison for marijuana possession and two New England states move towards medical marijuana.
Several studies suggest a prisoner’s mental health is dependent on their contact with the outside world. For many, mail correspondences are their primary contact with the public.
Many of the women incarcerated for marijuana offenses are isolated and alone. Receiving any outside communication from the public can be the highlight of their week or month. These small gestures let them know that they are not forgotten, and that the NORML Women’s Alliance is here to support and comfort them.
Recently, the NWA and Freedom Is Green collected letters for Patricia Spotted Crow, a first time offender from Oklahoma who was sentenced to 10 years behind bars for selling $30 worth of marijuana. Here is her heartfelt response to this small gesture from the outside world:
Want to write a marijuana prisoner?
Beth Mann of Freedom is Green provides some guidelines for individuals who are interested in writing to women (and men) that are in prison for marijuana-related crimes: “What should you write? Anything. Prisoners benefit from seemingly mundane letters about your daily life to words of inspiration to pieces of creative writing to news or current events. The important part is simply reaching out.”
[Note: We are focusing on one prisoner at a time. Right now we are sending letters to Patricia Spotted Crow. Please send a letter appropriate for her. Soon we will focus on other prisoners.]
Please keep in mind that all of the prisoner’s mail is read by authorities.
– Please send text only, no images or attachments
– Put the prisoner’s name in subject line of email
– Send separate emails for each prisoner
– Up to 1,000 words per letter
– By sending a letter through freedomisgreen.com we may contact you and ask that your letter be posted on the site to bring awareness to victims of prohibition. You may decline and we will still forward your letter directly to the prisoner.
– Send your emails to email@example.com
Let states enact their own marijuana policies
By Paul Armentano, Special to CNN
July 6, 2011
(CNN) — It is hardly surprising that former drug czar William Bennett would, in his CNN.com op-ed, oppose any changes to America’s criminalization of marijuana. But it is surprising that he would lump Barney Frank and Ron Paul’s proposal to allow states the opportunity to enact their own marijuana policy with the effort to legalize drugs.
Let’s be clear: HR 2306, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011, proposed by Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul, does not “legalize drugs” or even so much as legalize marijuana. Rather, this legislation removes the power to prosecute minor marijuana offenders from the federal government and relinquishes this authority to state and local jurisdictions. In other words, HR 2306 is just the sort of rebuke to the “nanny state” that conservatives like Bennett otherwise support.
The House bill mimics changes enacted by Congress to repeal the federal prohibition of alcohol. Passage of this measure would remove the existing conflict between federal law and the laws of those 16 states that already allow for the limited use of marijuana under a physician’s supervision.
It would also permit states that wish to fully legalize (for adults) and regulate the responsible use, possession, production and intrastate distribution of marijuana to be free to do so without federal interference. In recent years, several states, including California and Massachusetts, have considered taking such actions either legislatively or by ballot initiative. It is likely that several additional states will be considering this option in 2012, including Colorado and Washington. The residents and lawmakers of these states should be free to explore these alternate policies, including medicalization, decriminalization and legalization, without running afoul of the federal law or the whims of the Department of Justice.
Of course, just as many states continued to criminalize the sale and consumption of alcohol after the federal government’s lifting of alcohol prohibition, many states, if not most, might continue to maintain criminal sanctions on the use of marijuana.
But there is no justification for the federal government to compel them to do so. Just as state and local governments are free to enact their own policies about the sale and use of alcohol — a mind-altering, potentially toxic substance that harms the user more than marijuana — they should be free to adopt marijuana policies that best reflect the wishes and mores of their citizens.
Does Bill Bennett believe that state and local governments cannot be trusted with making such decisions on their own?
Speaking during an online town hall in January, President Obama acknowledged the subject of legalizing and regulating marijuana was a “legitimate topic for debate,” even as he expressed his opposition. Yet Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, recently boasted that he would not even consider scheduling HR 2306 for a public hearing.
There might be another reason people like Smith and Bennett will go to such lengths to try to stifle public discussion of the matter. To do so would be to shine light on the fact that the federal criminalization of marijuana has failed to reduce the public’s demand for cannabis, and it has imposed enormous fiscal and human costs upon the American people.
Further, this policy promotes disrespect for the law and reinforces ethnic and generational divides between the public and law enforcement. Annual data published in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, and compiled by NORML, finds that police have made more than 20 million arrests for marijuana violations since 1970, nearly 90% of them for marijuana possession offenses only.
It is time to stop ceding control of the marijuana market to unregulated, criminal entrepreneurs and allow states the authority to enact common sense regulations that seek to govern the adult use of marijuana in a fashion similar to alcohol.
In Bennett’s own words, “We have an illegal drug abuse epidemic in this country.” How is such a conclusion anything but a scathing indictment of the present policy? After 70 years of failure it is time for an alternative approach. The “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011″ is an ideal first step.
Editor’s note: Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML , the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and is the co-author of the book “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?” (2009, Chelsea Green).
One of the best (or worse, it depends on one’s perspective and physical location!) indicators of the total failure of a law, is when it is woefully and subjectively applied.
When trying to answer inquiries from reporters, columnists, policymakers and medical cannabis patients regarding as to ‘why specifically has Bryan Epis been compelled to return to federal prison–at great taxpayer expense during a steep recession–when there are thousands of cannabusinesses operating at the retail level in states like California, Colorado and Montana?’, there are no satisfactory (or logical) answers to provide them.
Suffice of to say, Bryan Epis’ case is both a dinosaur of sorts as well as a badge of shame for the current, and somewhat medical cannabis-supportive Obama administration in that his was one of the first federal arrests in 1997, and after a hotly contested legal battle, Bryan was one of the first medical cannabis primary caregivers to be sentenced under federal law, to ten years. After serving 24 months in prison from 2002-2004, with the greater social and political acceptance of medical cannabis blossoming around Bryan’s prison cell, he was able to procure an appeal bond, leave prison, argue his case in the appeals court again, re-start his successful business, pay taxes, take care of his mother, be a parent to his child, develop a loving relationship–all with the notion that he’d unlikely have to return to federal prison.
What, in the era of 24/7 medical cannabis vending machines, law enforcement having to return back hundreds of pounds of seized medical cannabis to patient-growers and caregivers, insurance companies paying on medical cannabis crop failure and insuring dispensaries with standard business liability coverage and President Obama implementing the first steps of recognizing medical cannabis’ safety, utility and need to change its legal status specifically-tailored for medical use?
Could the federal government be so arbitrary and capricious so as to seek his re-incarceration for eight more years to be served in prison, for the ‘crime’ of growing over one hundred medical cannabis plants?
Yes. On April 08, 2009, a three panel judge on the 9th Circuit ruled against Epis and ordered him back to prison.
Bryan may have been arrested under the Clinton administration, prosecuted and incarcerated under the Bush 2.0 administration, but the Obama administration’s Department of Justice can ‘do the right thing': stop wasting taxpayer’s money, stop being subjective in the application of the law and reason, and stop making the average person seriously question the priorities of government institutions and bureaucracies by immediately reducing his sentence, freeing him from a cage, and allow him to return to his family–and the tax rolls.
Below is a communication from Bryan’s partner regarding the two primary things citizens can do to support Bryan and help end this kind of insanity in the war against cannabis consumers:
1) Sign and distribute the petition necessary to appeal to the federal government to reduce Bryan’s sentence;
2) When booking lodging online, please use a search engine called LodgingSite, which not only benefits its owner (Bryan Epis!), but the company will donate 10% of their profit to public interest groups like NORML.
March 4, 2010
My name is Monica and I am writing you on behalf of Bryan Epis. As you know they recently took him back in to serve the remainder of a ten year prison sentence. He wanted me to contact you in hope that you can help us. I have attached a printable petition. Our goal is to come up with 100k signatures within 4 months. The lawyer he has is filing a 2255 to try to get his sentence reduced. Bryan is hoping you will put this petition on your website, anyone can print it. It holds 25 signatures per page, once a page is complete, at the bottom of the page is our address. We ask that they send them back to me and I will take them to his lawyer.
We have found a way to raise money for your non-profit organization as well as help Bryan.
We have a website called lodgingsite.com powered by Priceline. It is a hotel reservation web site. I would assume that all of your members, book at least one hotel a year, if they go to lodgingsite.com and book a hotel room under the “special rates” section. We offer 10% cash back to any non profit organization of their choice (as long as when they get their confirmation info and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org along with a designated non profit organization of their choice. They must include the name of the organization of their choice, plus their confirmation number, their name address, the hotel name and city). BTW, 10% equates to about $20 per reservation. If you multiply that by how many members and supporters NORML has it is potentially a lot of money NORML could get for the cause, as well as to help and promote Bryan’s defense.
If you have any questions please contact me at: email@example.com
(in care of Bryan Epis)