80 Years in Jail for Minor Cannabis Ownership
Nobody is being sentenced to 80 years in prison for small cannabis possession, however there are 2 symbols of marijuana restriction that have been locked away for life in the majority of people’s mind. Moses Baca and Sam Caldwell were arrested 80 years earlier when cannabis restriction began with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.
While neither person was an upstanding person, both Sam Caldwell and Moses Baca represent the injustices that people have actually dealt with for minor marijuana possession. U.S. prisons are filled with people that actually had no more interest than to smoke some weed. Without recreational weed states or a capability to look for a medical marijuana license, people have no option but to break the law if they want to partake in cannabis. Do you think that this marijuana legalization motion will cause clemency for those already in jail?
Editor’s Note: Today marks the 80th anniversary of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which entered into effect on October 1, 1937. To mark 4 years of marijuana prohibition, Leafly is reposting Dan Glick’s feature on Moses Baca and Samuel Caldwell, the first two Americans detained in the federal government’s eight-decade war on cannabis. Dan’s short article was initially released by Leafly in December, 2016.
The very first thing you notice about the mug shot of Samuel R. Caldwell is that the guy is using overalls. The balding, middle-aged Caldwell’s brow is furrowed, his lips firmly pursed. “Colo State Pen 18699″ spends time his neck, snug to the top of his firmly cinched jeans shoulder straps. His eyes look defiantly into the jail professional photographer’s lens, just shy of seething. A few years after the picture was taken, the serially put behind bars Caldwell would be gotten by cops at a Denver flophouse and sent to federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. There he served four years for an act that had actually ended up being a federal criminal offense just a few days prior to his arrest on October 5, 1937: offering cannabis.
In the decades because, Caldwell has ended up being an unlikely poster kid for cannabis legalization advocates. His mug shot adorns t-shirts, posters, and coffee cups canonizing Caldwell as “The First Pot POW.” Although Caldwell was undeniably early collateral damage in America’s war on drugs, his story isn’t an uncomplicated march to marijuana sainthood. In truth, it’s rather messy.
Sam Caldwell has long been enshrined as the renowned ‘very first pot POW.’ However in fact he was not the first.
A laborer with an 8th grade education and a lengthy rap sheet, Caldwell was barely the innocent farmer that his overalls may recommend. He was, in the words of among his jail evaluations, a “profession criminal” and previous bootlegger who owned more than just the four pounds of cannabis discovered in his Lothrop Hotel room on Denver’s Laurence Street. Caldwell also had a comically bad sense of timing. Inning accordance with among his pals, the 57-year-old Caldwell had just begun selling marijuana a few months prior to the brand-new federal law kicked in. It was a pure financial play– he never smoked the stuff. Four years previously, in January 1933, federal representatives arrested Caldwell for selling a gallon of contraband bourbon for $5– less than a year before the 21st Modification reversed Restriction. Caldwell’s first trip in Leavenworth was for peddling white lightning, not Panama Red.
This much is true: Sam Caldwell was one of the earliest targets of the 1937 Marihuana Stamp Act. However in point of reality, he was not the very first.
Moses Baca’s cannabis arrest, 2 days prior to Caldwell’s in a various Denver neighborhood, must have earned him the top spot in the Cannabis Hall of Fame. In Baca’s only known criminal justice shot, the 23-year-old looks a little like a Mexican-American version of Prince, with a shock of unruly hair, a few wisps of mustache, full unparted lips and a thousand-mile gaze. A Colorado State Reformatory number, 8755, sits on his best breast, and he’s sporting a striped shirt under a ratty sport coat.
In spite of the truth that the brand-new federal law had been targeted at “peddlers” instead of users, Baca’s criminal offense was to have a simple quarter ounce of the evil weed. Police discovered it in a bureau drawer in his third-floor rooming home on California Street in Denver’s 5 Points area as they were detaining him on a “Drunk & & Disturbance” charge.
As the folk hero status of Caldwell and Baca grew with the cannabis reform movement, the two began being mistakenly connected as purchaser and seller of those very first federal joints. Facts, as they say, should never obstruct of a great story.
Moses Baca was jailed two days before Caldwell, at 3am on a Sunday morning in Denver’s 5 Points neighborhood.
Like Caldwell, Baca is a not likely hero of the weed wars, with an even longer rap sheet and an unsightly tendency to beat his better half. As a guy of Mexican heritage (he was born in southern Colorado), Baca fit the profile of the type of individual lawmakers were targeting when Congress passed the very first federal marijuana law. Still, he left much easier than Caldwell on his marijuana charge: Baca served less than 18 months, likewise in Leavenworth.
The all-too obvious paradox of these males’s stories, happily taken upon by the modern-day cannabis reform motion, is that both jailbirds were popped for pot in the same state that would be the very first in the Union to legalize it, 76 years later on. Today any adult visiting Colorado can do with impunity what, in a less urbane type, sent Caldwell and Baca to federal jail: acquire some Sour Diesel and pleasurably imbibe.
Much as I want it were so, I can’t declare to be the sleuth who discovered the complete truth about Caldwell and Baca. That title falls upon a 48-year-old drug felon and autodidactic cannabis historian who goes by the pen name “Uncle Mike.” It was he who invested years digging through files and posting them on an odd website– www.UncleMikesResearch.com– and it was he who earned absolutely nothing from his efforts however a see from a meddlesome reporter.
I check out the Caldwell-and-Baca stories a couple of years ago, when Colorado’s very first retailers opened and the Denver Post put them back on the front page. However then I kept capturing glimpses of Caldwell, in all his slick-pated glory, occasionally as the legalization movement continued to broaden throughout America. And it made me question: Exactly what’s that dude’s story?
The sleuth who discovered the fact about Baca and Caldwell is a self-taught historian and proud cannabis felon.
Which, obviously, led me to Uncle Mike.
It took me many tries to reach him. Uncle Mike is not a publicity hound. When he finally returned my messages he was wary. Numerous reporters had actually messed up Caldwell and Baca’s story that he was reluctant to do anything in the beginning besides point me to his own research. At the University of Colorado law library, I browsed a copy of his book, “U.S. District Court, Denver, Colorado, Enforces First Federal Marihuana Law Penalties: Collection of Publications, Interviews, Criminal Files and Photographs of Moses Baca & & Samuel Caldwell,” © 2008.
Regardless of the unwieldy title, the book proved to be a treasure chest of material. I was gobsmacked by the main files Uncle Mike had obtained: microfiche copies of arrest records, court documents, paper clippings, handwritten interview notes, Congressional testimony, even the address of the Denver Victorian where Moses Baca had actually been living when he was apprehended. After a series of e-mails, Facebook messages, and secured phone conversations, Uncle Mike lastly agreed to guide me through the morass of half-truths, incorrect identity, and fuzzy storytelling emerging from both sides of the marijuana divide. But just over the phone. There would be no face-to-face conference. At least not for now.
Uncle Mike calls himself “simply a redneck from Craig,” a rural Colorado town more popular for being a hardscrabble coal neighborhood than it is for reproducing marijuana activists. After a life time living in the underground, he still isn’t comfortable using his genuine name. He lives in a state that legalized the source of his paranoia four years earlier, but legality hasn’t swept away the suspicion. He keeps in mind when he was first gathering signatures for a Colorado hemp effort in the late 1990s, “I couldn’t get potheads to sign, dude,” he told me. “They all believed that narcs would get the list.” Old habits die hard.
Uncle Mike was born in 1968 and found his method into political activism the tough way: in handcuffs. A hometown bust for “pot and acid” gave him a taste of jail. “It’s a pre-requisite for being a hardcore activist,” he told me. “After experiencing the system, you’re actually pissed off.” He did his time and ultimately pertained to see his arrest as a badge of honor shown numerous other reformers; a victim, like Caldwell and Baca, of being born in the incorrect age.