NOT LONG AGO, IN A PLACE NOT FAR AWAY…
Back in October of 2018, Edibles Magazine published, “A Model for Organic, Sustainable, Clean, Large Scale Farming: Pharm Aide Pharms” in our Health Issue featuring Fran Drescher on the cover. I had visited Skylar Walker on his farm in Walsenburg, Colorado and spent a few days there learning all about the amazing ways he was growing top shelf buds organically in the sun. Now, a year and a half later, and in the midst of a global pandemic, we’re revisiting Pharm Aide Pharms, and their story has taken a very dramatic and frightening turn.
Read the original Pharm Aide Pharms article from issue 49 here:
We recently talked to Wade Walker, the Walker family patriarch, at the Pharm Aide Pharms Farm in Hugo, Oklahoma. We were joined by his wife Dana, and this time their son Skylar wasn’t there. Don’t worry, we practiced good social distancing and wore all the proper, sanitary safety equipment the entire time. Masks and gloves are standard issue in this business.
Pharm Aide Pharms is a family farm who spent 20 years growing on the West coast.
They’re a family cannabis business that was licensed in 3 states. Skylar, Wade’s son, was raised in Mendocino County where Pharm Aide had an operation in addition to the farm they had in Humboldt County, and another they built in Colorado and eventually the one in Oklahoma, where we are here in Hugo. When Colorado turned recreational in 2017, Skylar went there on a consulting gig and wound up buying property and setting up an operation. Then when Oklahoma voted it in they already had their place there, so they got licensed as medical cultivators and became a three state license, 2 recreational states and one medical, at the time. Wade’s family has been involved in the business their whole lives, and now they were back home in Oklahoma. Skylar, Wade and Dana sold the California and Colorado farms to focus solely on their Oklahoma operations. Fans of Edibles Magazine will remember seeing Pharm Aide Pharms advertise for a number of years and their products have been the subject of many reviews both in the magazine and on “The Edibles Show”. They also won awards for their pre-rolls at the Best of Edibles List Awards. As mentioned before, it had been a while since we’d been to one of their farms.
It took a couple of years for them to get the license in Colorado. There was a residency requirement so Skylar moved to Walsenburg in 2017 to get started and immediately began making important civil connections, building up the property and applying for licenses to get approved on both the state and the county level. It took so long to get set up that they missed the planting season for 2017. In 2018 they rolled out a full count on three acres with 1600 plants but then Fall hit, prices plummeted just like on the West coast and taxes were bad plus there were regulations and the cost of compliance, so full pounds of whole buds were only fetching $400 wholesale, which is not good. It’s low, very low. That meant it would all be more valuable if they waited to sell it until prices were better and the market wasn’t so over saturated with newly harvested plants. In the meantime, Wade and Dana continued to focus on getting Oklahoma totally ready. Skylar had just gotten out of a relationship so for the time being he went to the farm in California to take care of finalizing things there. And then Wade tells us, “he made a big mistake.”
Skylar decided to move some product, 370 pounds of flower he’d grown in California under prop 215 back in the pre-recreational medical marijuana days, out of the state. He was caught when he got pulled over in Amarillo, Texas, for allegedly not leaving enough room between trucks when changing lanes. Texas is illegal, meaning they have no recreational or medical cannabis allowed whatsoever. The state trooper requested a search which Skylar refused, so they brought in K-9 officers which alerted the troopers that cannabis was present.
Wade told us during the interview:
“It was something that he shouldn’t have done, but he did. But the way it all played out in the end though overall, they wound up giving him a sentence that was just crazy in this day and time, for this… There was definitely time to be done, but it shoulda been around 24 months… They found out he had interests in three licensed legal states… At sentencing they used his legal interests as relevant conduct… They pumped it up to 60 months and $150,000 in fines. And he’s a first time offender who’s never been in trouble before.”
The DEA found out about the growing operations and ended up raiding their adult-use recreational licensed farm in Walsenburg. Pharm Aide had been set up with and following all of the regulations made by MED, the Marijuana Enforcement Division in Colorado, but an army of black government cars and SUVs, 20 vehicles total plus 2 helicopters descended upon the farm. They were however, completely unable to find anything that wasn’t tracked, traced and logged in Metrc ™, the cannabis compliance & seed to sale software. That didn’t stop them from confiscating all of the inventory. That means they took 3400 pounds of cannabis with a value of over one and a half million dollars. They were also unable to find any stacks of cash, which is clearly what they were looking for, because they kept asking, “Where’s the money?” Wade continuously replied to the DEA officers, “Well, what damn money? I told you there ain’t no damn money!”
Oddly enough, while the local DEA in Colorado Springs were willing to raid the licensed farm in Colorado, the DEA did not raid Pharm Aide Pharms licensed California or Oklahoma farms.
Skylar took the plea offered in order to reduce prison time and be able to choose the prison he would spend his time in. The judge in Texas sentenced him to the 5 years, and refused to allow any evidence to be submitted in addition to denying his attorney any objections. All the judge had to say was that, “It’s Federally illegal.”
This is a precedent setting case, because no other case has used a licensed legal cannabis commercial business as relevant conduct to get more time sentenced.
Prisoners and COVID-19
The Federal Prison Camp, Pensacola (FPC Pensacola), located on Saufley Field, an outlying field of Naval Air Station Pensacola, 175 miles west of the Florida state capital of Tallahassee. That’s the prison where Skylar chose to serve his time. If you absolutely have to go to prison, it’s certainly preferable to a lot of alternatives, but it’s still a prison and after all, there’s a global pandemic going on and everything.
Skylar is confined to a dorm room with 11 other men, so there’s around 700 men total. That means there are 12 men to a room sharing 6 different bunk bed racks that each sleep two people. They’re all trustee status, and are mostly incarcerated for low level drug crimes, and one third of the men are in for white collar crimes but there’s still 12 to a room and you’re not supposed to be in groups of more than ten. There’s also no way to keep a distance of six feet apart from other inmates. In prison, social distancing is impossible.
Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (FPI), doing business as UNICOR (stylized as unicor) since 1977, is a wholly owned United States government corporation created in 1934 as a prison labor program for inmates within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and a component of the Department of Justice. Most of their contracts are federal, and in this case they’re working at a military institution. The men are paid $0.13 cents a day to work at Saufley Field, an active U.S. Navy facility and a former Naval Air Station where the Blue Angels fighter jets are housed. Even though they’re in quarantine, they’re still required to work
They’re only letting them have one shower per week. They are not giving them hand soap or hand sanitizer or masks. The work being done on the Naval base puts them in direct contact with sailors and seamen stationed there, as well as their families who live on base in military housing. Prisoners on work detail are also exposed to guards who go home at night to their families, and then taken back to crowded rooms and set out the next day to do it all again. The number of people being put at risk seems highly irresponsible but it’s definitely in someone’s best financial interest to keep people in prison. Landscapers are hard to find at $0.13 a day, even in the military.
A federal prison, with a private contract, and now a death sentence for some.
The First Step Act
“The Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act.” The purpose of the act is to provide for programs to help reduce the risk that prisoners will recidivate upon release from prison, as well as for other purposes. The act, among many provisions, restricts the use of restraints on pregnant women, expands compassionate release for terminally ill patients, places prisoners closer to family in some cases, authorizes new markets for Federal Prison Industries, mandates de-escalation training for correctional officers and employees, and improves feminine hygiene in prison. The act was signed by President Donald Trump on December 21, 2018. A provision in the First Step Act could allow judges to release vulnerable federal inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the provision, inmates with serious illnesses can petition their warden for compassionate release. If the Bureau of Prisons doesn’t reply within 30 days, the inmate can then file their motion in federal court, giving judges more power to order the release of inmates who may otherwise suffer or die in jail. Currently a case could be made that this applies to a great number of inmates because so many are potentially at risk of being sick with the coronavirus.
William Barr sent a Memorandum For Director of Bureau Prisons March 26, 2020 recommending the transfer of inmates to home confinement where appropriate to decrease the risk to their health. Some state and county prisons have begun releasing prisoners. And if anyone qualifies for the early home releases, the men incarcerated at Pensacola do.
A Message to Cannabis Regulators from Wade Walker:
“When is the craziness going to stop? You got all these states that are legal… We’re deemed an essential business by local authorities, but yet we can’t have bank accounts or small business loans. As cannabis businesses, we are exempt from any of the Federal help or stimulus packages… Billions of dollars are being made. Look at how much money is being made in Oklahoma in application fees alone. Cannabis is the fastest thing since Dot com.”
Wade had been in California so long, he’d pretty much forgotten how much trouble you could get in for weed down south, and being raised in Mendicino county combined with being young enough not to even remember the days before medical marijuana, Skylar had never experienced this side of things. Wade acknowledged that he felt what his son had done was “stupid”, he also stated, “He damn sure didn’t deserve the sentence he got and he goddamn doesn’t deserve to be sitting there facing this death sentence. Especially in these conditions and his bronchitis… Even though the biggest taker in all of this is the IRS… the federal government can kick in your door at any time and take it all. This shit has got to change… It’s important to free my son, and all the others, and free the beds up.”
While advocating for prisoner’s rights this week on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Darren Walker said:
“2.3 Million Americans are behind bars. Many simply because they couldn’t post bail or on a technicality. That’s no reason for a death sentence. A 53 year old black man just died on the notorious Riker’s Island in New York who was there on a technical violation, like missing a meeting with a parole officer, which is no reason to be sentenced to death. Governor Cuomo just released 1100 people from Riker’s, and many other states are taking aggressive steps releasing people, like the elderly and those within 6 months of release… Coronavirus is a “heat seeking” disease that targets black and brown people because it metastasizes in the specific conditions their communities are victim to, like chronic disease, hypertension, asthma, high blood pressure, obesity, and the virus can find and kill these populations… Thousands of people are incarcerated for low level, non violent crimes.”
Skylar Walker’s attorneys are Adam Tisdale and Don Flannery. We’ll be talking to them next and following up soon with more information on his case and appeals.
Pre-Rolls Preventing Prison Pandemics
In an effort to save the lives of non-violent prisoners during the current global pandemic and to provide prisoners the protective supplies they need to stay healthy, sanitary and alive, a portion of the proceeds of every Pharm Aide Pharms preroll sold in 2020 will go to:
Pharm Aide Pharms full gram prerolls are made with high quality, sun grown, all natural, pesticide free whole top shelf buds. These joints were made with love by the team at Oklahoma Infusions Inc.
Join the cause:
“Prerolls Preventing Prison Pandemics”.