I didn't choose the outlaw life... the outlaw life chose me.
When America decided to make weed illegal they took away my fundamental right to feel better, and my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I learned at a young age that cannabis was a good choice for me. At the age of 12, I was locked up in a psychiatric ward for 45 days against my will with a team of doctors that decided I had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I was released and put on a heavy dose of Ritalin for over a year. Whatever your thoughts are on ADHD are irrelevant. In 1988 doctors were giving out Ritalin to kids at an alarming rate, and this practice still continues into today whether Ritalin or Adderall, or any other number of anti-depressant medications on the market. These drugs change the brain chemistry of humans. They change who you are and how you feel, and these effects are lasting. So whether or not I really had a true medical issue worthy of this type of meth-based drug prescription, or if I just had a single mom who worked 60 hours a week to pay the bills incapable of controlling a strong-willed hardhead like myself, these genius doctors decided to use me as a Guinea pig and dose me with Ritalin to try and calm me down.
Anyone who knows me probably figured out that their plan failed, as I to this day am a person who still does not conform to the norms of society in any way whatsoever. I live life on my own terms. Fuck your society. I do what I want.
At the age of 13, I found weed. Weed actually saved me. I found that a few hits of a joint stopped the madness in my head. I found clarity. I could see the world for what it was. I was happy when I was stoned. The panic that is a constant in my human experience would cease, and I could function. So what a kick in the nuts it was when I found out the only way to get weed was to be an outlaw.
At this time in my life I was living in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri… or as we referred to in Misery. Needless to say weed was even more illegal there than in most places. The Bible Belt is a bitch. To make a long and complex story short, once society made me an outlaw I found it difficult to draw the line on other issues. I was a roughneck kid who found trouble alluring. School was always too slow for me. It was not that I was incapable of doing the work. On the contrary. I was too capable, and the pace of the American school system was too slow for my development. It was mundane and lacked a sense of accomplishment. I found that being an outlaw was a much more compelling existence and I ended up in rehabs, group homes, and I ended up doing 13 months in the toughest juvenile prison in North St. Louis as a teen. I lived on constant lockdown for over a year, and it was me and 36 black kids who became my brothers over time. Talk about an eye-opener into the racial disparity of the “justice” system.
I got my GED in juvenile prison, scoring a 98% on the test. Because I was a relatively low-risk white kid with no place to go, as my mom chose the tough love route that was so chic in those days, at the age of 15 the jail let me leave every day to go to Harris Stow State College, a predominantly black college. I got a scholarship there with the help of one of the teachers at the prison and got a 4.0 GPA on college level work through my first semester.
After being released my mom moved us to Arizona in an effort to start over. But I was already an outlaw. It was just a matter of time before I found my way back to the life, and I spent a lot of time in and out of jail through my youth. I became a hustler. I came up in the weed game and dabbled in other drugs too. I moved out on my own at the age of 16 and decided that I would figure life out on my own terms through my own viewpoints and ideas. It was hard. I can’t even begin to explain the experiences that made me who I am today and how I managed to pull myself out of those difficult days.
I eventually grew tired of AZ and moved back to New York City where my father was. I linked up with some of the biggest players in the City and used to run the Sheep’s Meadow weed game in 1994, pushing weight all over the East Coast. It was here that I learned the economics of the weed game, and how to make a living being a weed outlaw.
Fast forward a couple of years and I ended up following a girlfriend out to California. It was late 1995, and I had to re-establish myself and start over again. Petitions for Prop. 215 began circulating and I was living on Panther Beach near Santa Cruz making $50 a day to gather signatures, while also getting my small time weed hustle back. It was an eye-opening period in history for me, as it was the first time I had considered my use of weed as a medical right. It was the first time that I felt like there was some sense being made about weed. It was the first time I understood that it was not my choice to be an outlaw, but that the society we lived in had failed me and made me a criminal. It was striking.
After Prop. 215 passed it felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. That somehow my outlaw life was justified, and that what I had been doing for most of my adolescence and young adult life was not something to be ashamed of. It made me feel like less of an outlaw and outcast. I was home.
But while the passage of the Compassionate Use Act changed the world forever, it was just the beginning of the fight. I became immersed in the culture of it all. It was fascinating. The more I learned about the Drug War and the illegality of cannabis, the more enraged I got. It fanned the flames in my soul and I felt compelled to fight this injustice to the death.
As the cannabis movement and industry continued to evolve, so did I. After slanging weed sacks most of my life I was beginning to realize this thing was real and that there might be light at the end of the tunnel. I soon learned that it was a train… a train called prohibition that continued to steam forward crushing families and communities in its path. I remember walking into Third Floor in Oakland for the first time and experiencing a real life weed store. I was astonished and inspired. It was like my entire existence had been justified with the purchase of a dub of blue dot from a real store with a real cash register and receipts.
I linked up with a friend who was making cannabis infused foods and selling them to the couple of dispensaries that existed at that time. I was going to St. Mary’s College majoring in business, and began working in the kitchen to earn a few extra bucks. We could not keep up with demand, and I began to invest in equipment, packaging, and more help to meet the needs. Tainted was born. We understood that there was a real lack of professionalism in the weed edibles industry at the time, as most of the offerings at the dispensary were plastic wrapped brownies and ganja goo balls. We developed professionally packaged and revolutionary products anchored by a line of fine chocolates. Our initial business model was the parody of other popular candy products on the market. We began with the Reefer’s peanut butter cup and it just spiraled from there. I was 26-years-old and still very much and outlaw living like there was no tomorrow. The enforcement of the DEA on cannabis providers began to ramp up as the industry grew and expanded, and we became activists out of necessity. We needed to fight to live another day. So we learned a lot about politics and direct action protests. I remember the Rosenthal trial was the pinnacle of our understanding that even though we made professional products sold in a professional store that we were just as much outlaws as we ever had been. We just had fancy packaging and order forms now.
But business was booming and we continued to grow and expand. We eventually moved away from the parody model after the Raich decision in the 9th Circuit gave us hope that every day may not be our last. We grew up and sometime in 2005 I remember looking up and realizing that we were likely the largest producer of cannabis branded products on the planet. We were everywhere in California. Tainted was ubiquitous. We always operated like we were a legitimate business doing all the little things that real businesses did, like paying taxes, following employment laws, and ensuring our commercial kitchen facilities exceeded expectations for food production standards.
On September 26th, 2007 armed gunmen stormed our “weed candy factory” and our grow facility, as well as our homes. It was front page news across the Nation, as nearly every major news outlet picked up the story. The day we were raided I was in Bellingham, WA just 30 miles from the Canadian border. As I sat there looking at my worried wife, and two young kids I considered fleeing to Canada. While story after story popped up on the internet, and I watch the lady on CNN try to explain poorly my life story as told by a DEA press release, I never felt like more of an outlaw. I was on the lam, and considered a fugitive from justice. After long and hard discussions with my attorneys, Sara Zalkin and Tony Serra, I decided to make the long drive home and face the music.
We organized a press conference the day that I turned myself in where I blasted the Feds for their actions and made no apologies for my "crimes." I was scared and at the same time livid. My life had exploded all over the media, and I was thrust into the spotlight for making weed brownies for sick people. When we went to court that morning and I saw the indictment reading “The United States of America vs. Michael Martin,” I just remember thinking “All of them? The Whole U.S. vs me?” We decided to take it head on and organized a series of protests and actions that created a great deal of awareness for our case. I began to write my first blog entitled “Free Tainted” where I chronicled my experiences with the federal justice system. Even the probation officer who was assigned to write my sentencing report admitted that he read my blog at night in his garage and found it compelling.
We continued to fight and be active in an effort to make the world understand our plight. Because we had no medical defense in federal court we decided to take a plea bargain. The prosecution started out wanting to give me a decade in prison, and after pleading decided to ask the court to lock me away from my family for 36 months. The prosecutor told us that he gave us a charge with no mandatory minimum, and that we could take up the medical cannabis issue at sentencing with our judge. We must have made a compelling argument because we were sentenced to no jail time, which was unheard of in that day and age. It was an enormous victory for the cannabis community, as people realized that even in the heat of this battle that there was a glimmer of hope for real justice. To date the Feds have never raided another edible company. You are welcome.
But as I maneuvered through the justice system from a halfway house, to house arrest, to probation I understood clearly just how much of an outlaw I still was. I knew firsthand that there was no real protection or safety from prosecution, and I was incredibly lucky. I watched as good people who also provided medical cannabis were sentenced to enormous prison sentences, including the 20 plus year sentences of Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes. The fight was very real for me, and it has been ever since that fateful day in September 2007. I took it very personally that I was right and just, and that the immoral policies of a failed drug war had almost taken me away from my family for a decade. I was angry. I am still angry. I wake up every day angry that I am still here fighting these injustices, and that there are so many good people in prison today over this bullshit.
It is a strange moment in history when on one hand there are people developing “legal” weed business models in the light of day, and on the other hand so many are still locked up for doing much less. I run into a lot of “business” people who have gotten into the weed industry because they see it as an opportunity they can capitalize off of. It is always a fun part of the conversation when I let them know that everything they are doing can still land them in prison for decades, regardless of how legit they think they are. I like to tell them the tale of Matthew Davies, a well-to-do business wannabe mogul who decided to jump into the weed game feet first to make a quick buck who is now sitting in Federal prison for 7 years. It is always an eye-opener for folks when you get real with them and ask them if they could spend several years in prison for their desire to get into the cannabis business. Many folks seem to forget that even though there are licenses and a growing industry that when it all boils down we are all just a bunch of fucking outlaws and criminals.
We continue to knock down the walls of prohibition, but we have so far to go. Never forget that. Each day could still be your last.
As I see medical cannabis and adult-use legalization laws being passed across the Nation, I am torn. On some days I am amazed at how far we have come; and on other days I am dismayed by how far we still have to go. Most of the laws we see being passed today are pay-to-play scams that have created a new regime of prohibitions and a web of over-regulated madness that leaves most of us still very vulnerable. It is far from cannabis freedom, and no one should be satisfied with the progress that has been made. We deserve better and should demand better. We are far from the end of the fight… in fact it has really just begun.
Which is why I sit here shaking my head as I read over the proposed Adult Use of Marijuana Act being put forth by Sean Parker and company for California, that is no more legalization than the semi-outlaw existence that has been my life for the last 20 years. While it sounds great to say that this law will make weed “legal” for adults 21 and over to use as they please, it is severely lacking in so many areas that it makes it not worth it. The geniuses who crafted this 62-page nightmare decided to bet against our own best interest in favor of trying to appease those who hate us, and who have always hated us. It is really one of the most poorly thought strategies I have ever seen, and it makes me sad. I hate it. As long as I have been fighting this battle I am angry that what we will likely be voting on here in California is not a solution. It is just a shift in the problem. It still leaves so many people on the outside looking in, and still looking over their shoulders as outlaws because we decided to create a law that is way too narrow in scope and tries to corner the market for the few. What can I expect in a world where the entire legal and political system is broken, and the only things that really matters to most of the world is money. Greed and extortion are the norm, and sensibility is a dream. I read these pages and pages of unnecessary bullshit that these folks want to pass off as legalization and I think to myself, “You were better off a fucking outlaw. At least then you knew where you stood.”
So here I sit literally rooting against cannabis legalization in California for 2016. I never imagined I would see the day, but I am actively campaigning against the AUMA effort and cannot see myself walking into a voting booth in November and voting yes on it. Not in a million years could I have imagined this scenario, but alas…. Best laid plans often go awry. The AUMA is about as awry as you can get where cannabis freedom is concerned.
I have no problem with being an outlaw for a few more years if that is what it takes. Fuck it. It is who I am. It is who you made me be. So if I have to be an outlaw for a while more for my love of weed and desire for real freedom then so be it.
I refuse to forget who I am, and that is an outlaw.
I am okay with that because I am right. I am on the right side of history. So as we continue on this journey we all have our own path to take and decisions to make; but at the end of the day you have to ask yourself “Is it good enough?” If your answer is NO, then get to work. I will see you on the battlefield, soldier. We did not come this far for some jackasses with a bunch of cash and a grip of bad ideas to set us back for another 40 years with their poorly crafted and ill-thought laws. Demand better. Be better. Do more.
Whether you like it or not, like me, you are just an outlaw when it boils down to it…. Live with it. Be who you are and never forget where you came from.