Greene quickly became a full-time cannabis advocate, working to help Alaskans access pot after the state became the third in the US tolegalize recreational pot in November 2014.
But despite the voter-approved initiative, Alaskahas not helped her start a legitimate marijuana operation. On the contrary, the state launched a series of undercover operations and raids at her club, ultimately charging her with eight serious criminal offenses of “misconduct involving a controlled substance”.
If convicted, she could face 24 years behind bars.
“It’s almost dizzying when you try to make sense of it,” Greene said in an exclusive interview with the Guardian about her upcoming trial. “It could literally cost me the rest of my adult life.
The 28-year-old’s case – which she has called a “modern day lynching” – has raised a number of questions about the ongoing war on drugs and could have broader law enforcement implications as more US states move to legalize cannabis and regulate it like alcohol.
While reporters across the globe rushed to interview the activist after her comical on-air resignation, the Anchorage woman has struggled to get people to pay attention to her prosecution. Advocates say the charges against Greene, who is black, are particularly alarming given the government’s history of disproportionately targeting people of color for minor marijuana offenses with tough-on-crime policies that fueled mass incarceration.
Greene, whose legal name is Charlene Egbe, said she first became interested in marijuana in college when she discovered that it was a much healthier alternative to alcohol. After working at news stations in Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia, Greene returned to her hometown in Alaska to work for the CBS affiliate where she was assigned to cover crime and courts – and eventually marijuana.
After meeting activists in Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, Greene became passionate about its medicinal value.
“It was something I had been taking for granted – that this could literally be changing these people’s lives.”
Alaska has a complicated history of confusing and contradictory marijuana rules. The state was the first to legalize cannabis for in-home use in the 1970s and passed a formal medical law in 1998. Officials, however, never created a system for licensing medical dispensaries, meaning users had few legal options.
“No one could ever agree on what the state of the law in Alaska actually was,” said Robert MacCoun, a Stanford law professor.
But once weed became legal, Greene grew determined. She was particularly moved after meeting an older woman with a neurological disorder who was forced to buy marijuana on the streets – at one point leading her to be robbed at gunpoint.
The reporter organized a private patients’ association, which soon became more than just a hobby. Eventually, she decided to use her media job to unveil her cannabis club.
“I just spoke from my heart for the first time,” Greene recalled, noting that the infamous “fuck it” line was unplanned.
The 2014 measure – which legalized the manufacture, sale and possession of marijuana – went into effect in February 2015. The state, however, had not yet finalized its regulations for retail operations and in the interim, the Alaska Cannabis Club allowed people to purchase “memberships” – supplying marijuana when members made “donations”.
Detectives immediately targeted the operation, with six undercover purchases and two raids in a five-month period, records show.
“The fact that they were watching us for so long, I kind of felt violated,” said Jennifer Egbe, Greene’s 26-year-old sister, who helped out at the club. “I was really just heartbroken. I never assumed it would go this far.”
The raids, which brought armed officers to their property, were especially stressful for Greene, who was worried police might shoot one of her four siblings at the club.
“I saw all my siblings ... with these guns that my tax dollars paid for pointed at them for what was now legal.”
Court records show that Greene was not directly involved in any of the undercover transactions, but state prosecutors solely charged her, noting that the club was registered under her name.
Greene pleaded not guilty, and a trial is expected in the coming months.
The state attorney general’s office declined to comment.
Cynthia Franklin, director of the state’s alcohol and marijuana control office, said that Greene’s club and two other businesses are facing consequences for launching before regulations were in place.
“These people got ahead and said, ‘We’re not going to wait.’”
Alaska’s weed industry is only getting off the ground now. The state has approved a total of 83 licenses – only 17 of which are for retail businesses, and they haven’t yet opened, Franklin said.
Greene doesn’t have a lot of vocal supporters in Alaska, even among pro-marijuana activists.
Tim Hinterberger, who chaired the 2014 legalization campaign, said, “The vast majority of people who are interested in growing or selling … have followed all of the timelines and have been waiting patiently.”
But even if Greene’s club was premature, critics said she should’ve been issued a fine or citation in line with the punishment for selling alcohol without a liquor license.
“This is a substance that we’ve decided can be safely consumed by adults,” said Tamar Todd, director of the office of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
While experts say it’s very unlikely Green will ultimately face decades in prison, the activist struggles not to worry about how incarceration could destroy her life.
“It casts a cloud over every laugh and every triumph and everything that I’m building and looking forward to.
Alaska’s first commercial cannabis harvest begins
Alaska Dispatch News - By. Laural Andrews - 9/26/2016
KASILOF – With autumn tightening its grip on Alaska, the state's first-ever commercial marijuana harvests are underway.
At Greatland Ganja, a marijuana grow in this small town on the Kenai Peninsula, brothers Leif and Arthur Abel are nearly finished pulling their cannabis plants from the high tunnels they call "gnome domes," where 10 different strains grew throughout the summer.
"We've got probably over half our crop already dried and partly cured," Leif said Wednesday, standing in one of the facility's four rooms, surrounded by bins of marijuana being processed by workers.
Around 75 pounds of dried marijuana had been processed so far, Leif said. The company is hoping for roughly 100 pounds from this first crop.
Walk into Greatland Ganja's compact facility and drying marijuana hangs high overhead. In an adjacent room, immature cannabis plants are stacked on shelving units that reach up to the ceiling; in the office, workers trim buds from plants recently pulled from the ground. A vertical drying rack system that pulls from the wall can dry 100-200 pounds of cannabis at a time, Leif said.
Each batch of marijuana must be tested by a state-licensed testing facility, which so far remain closed.
"This process means nothing to anybody until the labs are open," Leif Abel said.
Only two labs are nearing completion, and both are in Anchorage. CannTest, located in Anchorage's Ship Creek area, is hoping to open in mid-October, CEO Mark Malagodi said Thursday. AK Green Labs hopes to open in early November, according to owner Brian Coyle.
Meanwhile, Greatland Ganja has been in talks with retailers for about a year, Leif said.
So far, the prices are unknown, but Leif estimated $15 a gram for B-grade buds. "It's hard to give out a price list until your product is dried and cured and you've got it lab tested," he said.
At $800 a pound, state taxes are more than half of their production costs, Leif said. "This year we'll probably be paying the state over $100,000, just for this one harvest," he said.
Meanwhile in Fairbanks, Rosie Creek Farm is also wrapping up its first harvest. Rosie Creek was the second grow to be licensed in the state in July. It began pulling up plants about a month ago, owner Mike Emers said Thursday.
A relatively late start in the season, followed by a rainy summer, made growing outdoors more challenging, Emers said. Luckily, September's weather has held steady, with only a few days of frost.
"We're just trying like heck to beat freezeup and get the rest of the stuff out of the field," Emers said.
Statewide, 12 commercial facilities are up and running. Half are in Fairbanks. The others are in North Pole, Juneau, Valdez, Seward, Sterling and Kasilof.
Subsistence Products, a limited cultivation facility in Fairbanks (defined as a grow with less than 500 square feet of plant space) also started harvesting this week, owner Karl Hough said.
Other grows are close behind. Pakalolo Supply Co., Tanana Herb Company, LLC, Green Rush Gardens, LLC, and Elevated Innovations are all about three weeks from harvest time, each company said Thursday.
The rest are further out, expecting their first harvest in November or December. (Only one grow, Foxy Enterprises in Fairbanks, couldn't be reached for comment.)
Meanwhile, the state will be licensing the first marijuana retail store in the first few days of October, Remedy Shoppe in the Southeast community of Skagway.
For Greatland Ganja, the brothers will continue building and processing their crop, waiting for the next stages to begin.
"I look at this as a successful business right now because we've made it this far. The licensing has been a huge hurdle and funding has been a huge hurdle," Arthur said. "But the big landmark for me is when we start to see income. No business is successful without making income, and at this stage of the game we have not made a dime."
People 21 and older can now legally possess recreational marijuana in Alaska, Colorado, D.C. and Washington.
All places prohibit public consumption of marijuana, but the laws differ on buying, selling, growing, testing and taxes.
Possession: For adults 21 and older, up to 1 ounce
Grow: Up to six plants per adult 21 and older allowed in home for personal use. Can give up to 1 ounce to other adults 21 and older.
Sell: No system of recreational retail sales yet; expected late 2015 or early 2016
Testing: Rules not yet developed. Industry will be regulated by the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
Taxes: None yet.
Possession: Adults 21 and older, up to 1 ounce
Grow: Up to six plants for personal use. Can gift up to 1 ounce to other adults 21 and older.
Sell: Network of state-regulated but privately owned stores. Stores opened Jan. 1, 2014.
Buy: For residents 21 and older, up to 1 ounce at a time. Non-residents 21 and older may buy only 1/4 ounce at a time.
Testing: Mandatory potency testing for all products sold in stores.
Taxes: High at both wholesale and retail level, generating more than $70 million last year.
Possession: For adults 21 and older, up to 2 ounces.
Grow: Up to six plants per adult 21 and older allowed in home for personal use; 12 plants total per household. Can give an ounce to another person 21 and older.
Sell: Sales prohibited.
Buy: Buying prohibited.
Testing: No testing.
Taxes: No tax revenue because there's no system for selling marijuana.
Possession: For adults 21 and older, up to 1 ounce
Grow: No personal plants allowed.
Sell: Small number of state-regulated stores, which began opening July 8, 2014. Stores allowed only one sign.
Buy: Tourists and residents 21 and older can buy up to 1 ounce at a time.
Testing: Mandatory potency, contaminant testing
Taxes: State levies 25% excise tax at each sale: grower to processor, processor to retailer, retailer to customer.
Source: NORML; USA TODAY research
After voting to legalize marijuana this past November, Alaska residents can finally bask in the smoke of decriminalized weed as the law allowing the "private use" of the drug was officially enacted on Tuesday. Under the new law, Alaskan residents will now be allowed to smoke weed in their own homes and grow up to six plants per residence. However, getting high in public is still illegal in the form of a strictly enforced $100 fine. Consequently, because of the public ban and threat of fines, a legal weed outdoor celebration party scheduled for Tuesday in Anchorage was canceled, USA Today writes.
Alaska has largely stayed out of pot issues since 1975, when the state Supreme Court legalized pot use inside the home as part of their unique and protective privacy laws. However, being in possession of marijuana was still a crime, creating a catch-22 that Alaska has grappled with for three decades until the November decision to decriminalize weed clarified the issue. "For the people of Alaska, it's a day where all of this 'Is it legal?' or 'Isn't it legal?' is straightened out," said Cynthia Franklin, the director of Alaska's liquor control board.
However, there are legitimate concerns about the effect legalized weed will have on Alaska, especially in a Native American community already rife with drug abuse, domestic violence and suicide. "When they start depending on smoking marijuana, I don't know how far they'd go to get the funds they need to support it, to support themselves," said Edward Nick, council member in Manokotak, told the Associated Press. Details about the sale of marijuana in Alaska are still being worked out.
In an effort to make sure Alaskan citizens don't descend into reefer madness, the state plans on lining buses with slogans like "Consume responsibly" and "With great marijuana laws comes great responsibility."
VIA Rolling Stone
5/22 Jeff Richardson newsminer.com
This is awful, the sickest patients are left with no resources. -UA
FAIRBANKS — A growing federal crackdown on medical marijuana has unfolded around the country in recent months, but in Alaska the vibe around the issue remains decidedly mellow.
The Obama administration vowed in 2009 to make medical marijuana oversight a low priority, and raids on pot dispensaries have indeed been down dramatically during the last two years. But federal prosecutors have recently signaled intentions to crack down, issuing memos that indicate they’re tired of perceived abuse of medical marijuana.
It’s caused politicians and law enforcement officials across the country to re-examine their approach to medical pot, which has been legalized in Alaska, 13 other states and Washington, D.C., mostly through voter initiatives.
But the issue creates little buzz in Alaska more than a dozen years after 58 percent of the state’s voters in 1998 made Alaska one of the first states to sanction marijuana for medical use.
Why isn’t Alaska the site of protests and federal crackdowns?
That’s likely because of the way Alaska’s medical marijuana law was written. Unlike other states, where systems have been set up to sell medical pot, there isn’t a mechanism in Alaska for legally acquiring the drug.
Dispensaries, which have been the target of federal raids in other states, don’t exist in Alaska, and the Legislature has shown no interest in creating a system for setting them up.
Anchorage-based U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said she’s never dealt with a medical marijuana case in Alaska since taking the job two years ago. Since the distribution of pot isn’t part of the law approved by voters, she doesn’t expect that to change.
“Alaska has never legalized the sale of marijuana, so it’s different than other states,” she said.
A low-key issue
The prohibition on pot sales — even for approved uses — keeps Alaska out of the conflict but puts local medical marijuana users in an awkward situation.
State officials won’t explicitly say so, but obtaining marijuana for medical purposes in Alaska almost always needs to start with an illicit transaction. There’s no approved method in Alaska for buying marijuana or its seeds for medical use.
“(The law) doesn’t really address how you’re supposed to get it,” said Phillip Mitchell, who is in charge of the Alaska medical marijuana registry.
The state doesn’t say much at all about its medical marijuana program. The subject barely appears on the state of Alaska website, with little more than a link to an application form on the Bureau of Vital Statistics page.
Marijuana use is limited to a short list of illnesses — cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS — and treatment for a handful of symptoms that include chronic pain, nausea and seizures. But some say it’s too difficult even for those patients to get a doctor’s recommendation for marijuana.
Tracey White, the program director at the Interior AIDS Association, said marijuana helps some people overcome the extreme nausea that can be a side effect of anti-AIDS drugs. A synthetic form of THC, which supplies the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is available, but patients say its doses aren’t as easy to regulate as the real thing.
She said clients commonly ask her for referrals to doctors who will prescribe medical marijuana. White said she doesn’t know of any.
“I don’t have any clients using the medical marijuana because we don’t have a specialist in the area who will write for medical marijuana,” White said.
It’s a situation the state’s clinics and hospitals have been reluctant to broach. Patients aren’t allowed to possess the drug at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, and doctors there don’t recommend it. Anna Atchison, Tanana Valley Clinic spokeswoman, said there aren’t any physicians at the clinic who would endorse marijuana for patients.
“We would not recognize that as being part of a traditionally prescribed treatment,” she said.
Mary Ann Foland, the president-elect of the Alaska State Medical Association, said she can’t think of a single doctor in the state who recommends marijuana to patients.
“I don’t know of anybody who does it,” she said.
But apparently at least one physician in the state is a supporter. There are 379 patients on the state registry, and with almost no exceptions, a recommendation from an Alaska doctor is required to get on that list.
The cards are valid for one year, and demand has recently surged. A few years ago, there were fewer than 200 people on the registry.
“Like most programs, it goes through cycles,” Mitchell said. “I can’t pinpoint any reason why there are more now than there used to be.”
Alaska and marijuana
But while medical marijuana is approved for hundreds of Alaskans, the state’s quirky approach to pot makes the law seem redundant to some supporters.
In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that a privacy clause in the state Constitution allows the possession of small amounts of marijuana in homes.
A voter initiative to recriminalize pot in 1991 was struck down by the courts for the same constitutional reasons, as was a bill by the Legislature outlawing “personal use” protection in 2006.
The court ruling essentially allows up to 4 ounces at home for personal use. A medical marijuana card lets patients have as much as an ounce of usable marijuana in their homes — the lowest amount allowed in any of the states that have sanctioned medicinal pot.
David Finkelstein, a former Anchorage lawmaker who supported the medical marijuana ballot measure, said that fact probably dampens the need many people feel to become registered. He said the process is simply too much of a hassle in a state that already offers limited protection for marijuana users.
“To some degree, you’ve drawn attention to yourself,” Finkelstein said. “People can say, ‘There’s a house with marijuana in it.’ There still is a federal law against it.”
Sen. Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat who has spent most of his 24-year legislative career on Health and Social Service committees, said Alaska’s independent and libertarian tendencies also work to make medical marijuana “a quiet non-issue” in the state.
“There haven’t been any big controversies at all,” he said.
Finkelstein now splits his time between Alaska and Arizona, where he moved to be closer to treatment after he was diagnosed with cancer.
Finkelstein chuckles at the irony of his current condition. After years of speaking on behalf of medical marijuana, he’s suddenly a candidate to use it. He said his prognosis is good but the drug “just doesn’t do much for me.”
“Everyone is different,” he said. “It isn’t something that helps everyone, but the ones that it does help, it really works for.”