What 4/20 Means To Those Incarcerated For Weed

Photo by Jakub Matyáš

While the rest of us celebrate 4/20 freely, cannabis prisoners are languishing in prison cells—many for non-violent crimes in states where recreational cannabis is now legal. 

In honor of 4/20, the Last Prisoner Project has collected letters from those incarcerated on cannabis offense. Here are four of them. Please share their sentiments far and wide.

And please continue to support cannabis reform and restorative justice. Call your reps at 202-224-3121 to demand change now.

"All I can muster is a glimmer of hope and faith that someone will speak on our behalf, that someone will remember the forgotten ones, that someone will pledge and sponsor us, to ultimately bring us home to celebrate 4/20 with our friends and loved ones." —Edwin Rubis

What 4/20 Means to Me by Edwin Rubis

This year, cannabis enthusiasts will celebrate 4/20 around the world. In America, thousands will toke up with their friends in their respective states where cannabis is legal. Marijuana businesses will take advantage of the holiday to sell and market their products.

Not me.

I'll be going through the same rigorous, monotonous routine I've gone through for the past 8,760 days, waking up to see fences upon fences topped with coiled razor wire and gun sentries, reminding me of the place I've been condemned to live in until God knows when. In a place where perturbed loudness and human uneasiness abound, in a place where senseless violence can explode at any moment.   

True, there are many who believe I shouldn't be here for a plant that's now legal in thirty-five states and counting. The hundreds of letters I've received over the years testify of such lamentation. Yet feeling empathy for my situation, and others in the same boat, can only take you so far. Telling me, "that's a horrible thing you're going through," can only comfort me so much. Our unjust situation needs radical personal involvement. A campaign in the form of NO-PARDON-NO-VOTE aimed at President Biden in the next election, or something of the sort.

Being in prison during 4/20 frustrates me more than anything else. The government is keeping us locked up for a product that many are profiting from, including politicians. Just ask ex-speaker of the house, John Boehner, member of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company, who would rather make a buck than advocate for congress to let us go in the name of social justice.

Many celebrating 4/20 are unaware what prison is like for me. Over the years, I've had to scrounge for funds to further my education. I've had to go without food items and toiletries from the prison commissary just to buy my college books and pay for my tuition. I've had to go without so that I could make phone calls and send emails to my loved ones and friends.

Don't get me wrong, Last Prisoner Project, FreedomGrow, MissionGreen, Cheri Sicard, and others help as much as they can—LPP bought my college books for my Masters Degree. But it's still not always enough to carry the day. A few weeks ago, I had only $.85 on my prison account, until Amy Povah and her organization deposited $150.00. This enabled me to buy food essentials in the form of pre-cooked rice, turkey sausage, tuna, oatmeal, peanut butter, dried fruit, and so forth to make my own microwaved meals. Regular prison food is unhealthy and not always so edible after eating it for over 24 years. The rest went to the phone and email. Everything in prison costs money.

So on this special day, all I can muster is a glimmer of hope and faith that someone will speak on our behalf, that someone will remember the forgotten ones, that someone will pledge and sponsor us, to ultimately bring us home to celebrate 4/20 with our friends and loved ones.

— Edwin Rubis is serving 40 years in federal prison for a non-violent marijuana offense.  He has been in prison since 1998. His release date is in 2033. You can email Edwin at: edwinrubis@aol.com

cannabis prisoners on 4/20

What 4/20 Means to Me by Juanita Kinsey

4/20 and 4:20 are my favorite time of year and day, especially when I'm not incarcerated. The first time I heard about 4/20 was at a tiny, tucked-away head shop in Tallahassee, Florida back in 1998. I learned that day that 4/20 was an international cannabis smoke-out day. The shop had these holographic 4/20 stickers that I immediately became obsessed with. I proceeded to buy all six different stickers and put them all over the outside of my car. (This may or may not have been some of the reasons my criminal history started with my first charge of possession of less than 20 grams—one joint—in 1999.)

4/20 has been my favorite holiday ever since [I discovered it]. Every one of my friends and I would start planning the greatest smoke out for that day! Flavored papers, blunts, bongs, gravity bong made out of a mop bucket and a two-liter coke bottle with the bottom cut off and the cap with a bowl rigged in it! OMG! Some of my best memories were from these gatherings!

I am so thankful for this day that brings so many people together to celebrate cannabis all over the world. Cannabis brings healing to the body, the nations, love, compassion, friendship, unity, and much, much more.

People coming together for 4/20 has had a huge impact on legalization to get us to the point we are at today. Upon my release, I will be celebrating legally with some high-quality California's finest medical cannabis with the love of my life, Colby Standley! Until then, put a fatty in the air for all the incarcerated cannabis lovers on 4/20 and whenever you think about us!  Peace, Love, and Smoke

— Juanita Kinsey is serving a 6-year sentence for a cannabis charge in Florida.  She is a loving mother and wife. She currently works in the dog therapy program in her prison and hopes to continue her work training therapy dogs upon her release. Her husband and co-defendent, Colby Standley, is also an LPP constituent incarcerated in Florida for cannabis. 

World Cannabis Day 4/20 by Rudi Gammo

The date 4/20, the number 420, and the time 4:20 symbolize so much more to me now than when I was growing up. To me, it now symbolizes the movement for the legalization of cannabis worldwide and it should not be taken lightly. As one of Michigan's advocates who helped change the city of Detroit's ordinance and open one of the first dispensaries in Detroit, I was still celebrating 4/20 by sharing cannabis with the patients that supported Green Cross Detroit, friends, and family. Of course, I also had a joint on my lips all day. That was 4/20.

After sitting in prison for four years and not being able to celebrate or help with the movement. I see things in a whole new light. All is well with celebrating 4/20 (smoking, vaping, dabbing, eating till you can't eat anymore) but what needs to be recognized is that there are cannabis prisoners sitting in jail or prison. These people’s lives have been affected because of criminal records due to the criminalization of cannabis. I'm one of those people. 

When I was younger, I remember people judging me because I used cannabis. The Chaldean-Iraqi community from Detroit is highly involved in every aspect of the cannabis market. These are some of the same peers, parents, aunties, uncles, community members that used to look down on me because of my involvement with cannabis as a young adult. I remember the parents of a girl I dated made her stop seeing me because I sold and used cannabis. I always think of how my life would be different if those same people that are profiting now from the cannabis market had accepted me for who I was. I always think of how would my life be different. 

Now one of the things we need to do on 4/20 is to call on our lawmakers to free cannabis prisoners, to change the law in the states where people are still suffering from cannabis in any way, shape, or form. This is what we stand for in America, our freedom to choose what medication or recreational activity we want to do as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. I'm so tired of hearing "if we legalize cannabis then we should just legalize every drug.”  

Because of COVID-19, nowadays the air we breathe can kill us but governments around the world still want to lock you up and ruin your life for cannabis. I hope and pray that my point of view of 4/20 can be shared and doesn't offend anybody. This is what 4/20 means to me now. God Bless and Happy 4/20!

— Rudi Gammo is the father of 3 and was the owner of a Detroit city-sanctioned dispensary before being sentenced to 5.5 years for a cannabis charge in 2018. 

cannabis prisoners on 4/20

Behind The Walls by Andrew Wayne Landells 

To most Americans and other people from around the world who are lovers of the special sacred medicinal herb called marijuana, 4/20 signifies a day of liberation and freedom to smoke, cleanse the body and mind, heal the soul, and exalt their consciousness in peace and happiness. For those who chosse to go and paint the town green and enjoy the pleasure of their chosen company without limitation, this must truly be a liberating feeling to step out from behind the walls of your home knowing you express yourself freely. 

I share this beautiful day of jubilation with you in spirit and I know a day will come when marijuana is legalized federally and you will see it being sold in pharmacies, 7/11, Walmart stores, gas stations, and your local corner store just like cigarettes. But we are not there yet. My people, please do not let the most critical part of this movement be shoved under the carpet. Your brothers and sisters who are still in prison serving harsh inhumane sentences for marijuana are the true sacrificial martyrs who carried this industry on their back and kept it relevant for everyone to be able to reap the benefits of today.

To some, they see me as one of the few who wrote the blueprint to this game, I have always seen myself as an entrepreneur, with one of my core principles to never partake in any business that would do harm to any being.

 In today’s world, marijuana companies are doing no different from what I was doing. It's been over a decade and I am still in prison for a non-violent marijuana offense, out of sight out of mind along with so many other injured players sitting out the game on the sidelines, getting bits and pieces of updates via trunks of what's happening and cheering the new players on, always knowing the dual side of reality, freedom still feels like a dream of Martin Luther that we may never see.

One can sympathize but until you actually walk for just one day in my shoes, its impossible to truly explain the feelings of a father, on a 15 minute phone call with his five-year-old daughter, "Daddy, my best friend at my new school said to me today, 'You talk about your dad every day and all the fun stuff you guys do together, when is he going to come and pick you from school?'" My daughter says, "Daddy, it hurts me sooo much because I did not know how to say my dad was in prison, and it keeps hurting and now it's affecting my school work.”

I am sharing this to say the innocent children and loved ones of marijuana prisoners are free but mentally they are living their everyday lives behind an invisible wall. These are all your fellow law-abiding citizens and they too are hurting and this pain won't cease until marijuana is no longer in the same classification as heroin, cocaine, etc. Money laundering and trafficking in connection to marijuana offenses should be thrown out and these Prisoners of Peace immediately released.

— Andrew Landells is currently serving a 15-year federal sentence for cannabis and has been incarcerated since 2014 at FCI Edgefield, SC.