Conviction: Conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, manufacturing marijuana, and structuring currency transactions to evade federal reporting requirements
Sentence: Five and a half years
Facility: Federal Correctional Institution Dublin in California
Patricia Albright learned how to use pot as medicine under the worst imaginable circumstances: her son, Trevor, then age 8, was dying of cancer. By that point, he'd lost both eyes to the retinoblastoma he'd been diagnosed with at 16 months old.
"He did well with it at first but as time went on he became listless and barely conscious and when he was, the pain was so severe he would be screaming for help," Patricia writes from prison. "If we gave him more morphine we would have killed him." Then, his oncologist suggested medical marijuana – teaching Patricia how to make butters and tinctures – and it appeared to help ease his pain.
"It was so wonderful to see him laugh, eat his favorite foods, listen to music, 'watch' Mr. Rogers (his favorite) … enjoy visitors and ultimately have the chance to read to his new baby sister in braille," she writes. She gave birth to his sister 17 days before he passed away in 1984. On the morning of his death, she remembers, Patricia gave him permission to die. "I told him that time in Heaven was different than time on earth and that his mommy would be right behind him."
After her son's death, she continued to make marijuana products for people suffering from a host of painful conditions. "I gave away medicine to AIDS, cancer, heart, dialysis, MS, cerebral palsy and epileptic patients," she says. She herself had a prescription for medical marijuana she used to treat the anxiety and PTSD she experienced after the trauma of taking care of her dying child, and she and her son Jordan ran a medical pot collective with eight other people. California legalized medical marijuana in 1996. In keeping with the guidelines for legal growers, Albright and all the other growers had physician-issued prescriptions.
In September of 2010, the collective got a visit from a man they suspected to be a cop. They told him to get off their property. As it turned out, he was an undercover agent from the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office. Later that month, a task force made up of local, state and federal officials executed a search warrant on the property.
Albright and her son Jordan were indicted for pot sold between 2008 and 2010, in addition to gun charges for the shotgun she says she kept to ward off mountain lions and bears.
Offered a plea deal of four years in prison for her, and one year of home supervision for her son, Albright refused, claiming that she'd done nothing wrong or illegal. But that didn't matter in federal court. "I have learned since my indictment that a medical marijuana defense is not allowed in most federal courts," she wrote in 2013. "Neither is the fact that we were totally legal and compliant with state and county laws."
At the time, she asked the Obama administration for help. "I believe in you … we are not criminals," she wrote in a letter. Faced with 20 years and prison time for her son, she took a guilty plea and got five and a half years. Her son got prison time as well. "I was pretty pissed off when Jordan and I were sent to prison. We took such great care to make sure we met the criteria for a completely State of California and El Dorado County legal collective, she says. "Apparently that does not matter to the feds."
Federally, pot is still a Schedule I drug, which means it's not actually legal anywhere in the U.S., giving the federal government the authority to raid marijuana facilities, even in places that have legalized at the state level. Amy Povah, the head of CAN-DO for clemency says her case is a perfect example countering Sessions' Department of Justice line on pot.
"Patricia's case establishes that the public cannot trust the current propaganda coming from Jeff Sessions' Dept of Justice that claims 'all drug cases are inherently violent' and that there are 'no low level' drug offenders in federal prison." Povah says.
Albright believes she was targeted so the government could seize her property through asset forfeiture. "The feds filed forfeiture on my home and land 10+ acres in the woods above Nevada County where I raised my two children without any child support and fought like hell to keep and maintain.' In July, Attorney General Sessions said he would expand civic asset forfeiture.
Patricia doesn't think she should be in prison, given the high cost to taxpayers.
"The U.S. makes up 5% of the world population but we have 25% of the prisoners. Shame on them," she writes. "Seriously screwed up when you think of what politicians that get away with."