PHOENIX - The legalization of recreational marijuana through Proposition 207 in 2020 opened a lot of doors for people with past low-level marijuana convictions.
Nowadays, thousands of people have already applied for expungement under the voter-passed initiative, but not everyone can get their charges tossed out, including a Phoenix entrepreneur who says the same cannabis industry that is bringing in big money today almost cost him everything a decade ago.
Making and packaging CBD oils and candy are all in a day's work with CBD at Hempful Farms for Chris Martin and his wife Andi. Perhaps not many would have gone back to a business that almost cost them everything.
"On my record right now, I have 15 total felony convictions from 1996 to now. It's all pot-related," said Martin.
Martin -- the tough-looking chef, tatted up, biker with the soft side -- was a medical marijuana trailblazer about a decade ago. Using THC to treat his own Crohn's Disease, he started making Zonka Bars, a big name in the marijuana edible game, and was selling the infused candy to compassion clubs, which consist of people looking for medical relief with THC, but didn't want to smoke.
The problem was: Martin was not partnered with a licensed dispensary and the police came knocking.
"It was all police," Martin recounted. "Four jurisdictions, and guns held in my kids' faces for a plant that's supposed to save my life."
Martin had already been to prison once for a marijuana charge. The edibles entrepreneur said he was caught up in trumped-up charges stemming from the War on Drugs, and was looking at a possible life sentence back in 2012. The father of five fought the charges and ended up serving 2.5 years in prison.
"I make it mandatory we write to these people," said Martin. "I don't want them to feel forgotten."
Meeting other people who had their lives totally upended by marijuana charges, he changed his business model to focus on CBD oils, and not full scale medical marijuana. Despite the turnaround, the injustice for Martin remains.
"I've been here 46 years on this planet. I've never been able to vote, I've never been a citizen in my own country. It's an awkward feeling," said Martin.
While potentially hundreds of thousands in Arizona can get marijuana charges tossed thanks to Proposition 207, Martin is not one of them. Martin's story, and stories of others that are similar to Martin's, struck a chord with Weldon Angelos.
Angelos, a Utah-based music producer and cannabis entrepreneur, faced 55 years in prison back in 2004. He sold about $350 of pot to an undercover agent. Angelos had a concealed weapon on him, and his harsh sentence attracted a coalition of Democrats and Republicans looking for reform. Former President Barack Obama commuted his sentence, and Angelos was released in 2016. He eventually received a full pardon from Former President Donald Trump.
Nowadays, Angelos helps people like him seek pardons from their governors, and a laundry list of some of the biggest names in Hip Hop joined him seeking reform at the federal level, where marijuana is still a crime.
"What really gets me is today, these corporations and entrepreneurs are violating federal law and becoming millionaires, where other people -- like Chris, like me -- are doing the same thing, going to prison for it, becoming felons, both violating the same statute," said Angelos.
The shift in thinking about weed -- from a prison-worthy, life-ruining drug to a business enterprise -- has helped change the conversation about justice. Martin hopes he gets his version of it soon, and his story changes the game.
"I want to show people that mistakes can be made, we can recover from that and grow, and be better," said Martin.
Martin says he is in the process of applying for a pardon from the Governor's Office. He is trying to gather more people in similar situations in the state to raise awareness about what they deem as unfair marijuana laws.
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