The story of how I became a cannabis legalization activist started when I was in 5th grade. That was they year I had the D.A.R.E. for the first time. D.A.R.E. stood for Drug Abuse Resistant Education. It was taught to elementary school kids by a local police officer. D.A.R.E. taught me about many drugs and the dangers associated with them. They had taught us that the dangers of marijuana were addiction, lung cancer, brain cancer, disease, and guide us through a gateway to a meth or heroin addiction.
I believed it.
Then in 6th grade I had the D.A.R.E. program again. This time my uncle who was a cop at the local Police Department was my own D.A.R.E. officer. I was taught the same thing. The dangers of marijuana were addiction, lung cancer, brain cancer, disease, and guide us through a gateway to a meth or heroin addiction.
Again, I believed it.
Then right after I had just turned 13 I was with my older brother in California. He is 5 years older than me so he was 18 at the time. He told me “I am going to smoke this if you don’t mind” I looked and asked. “Has anyone died of an overdose?” He tells me no. Then I ask. “Can I try it?” and my brother smokes me out for the first time. I did not get high my first time and had to smoke again to get high.
That was the beginning of my interest in cannabis. At the age of 13 I believed marijuana caused cancer, brain damage, and disease but even that seems worth the risk at that time seeing as how no one has ever died from an overdose.
I try buying weed in Jr. high and my first 2 years of high school but I kept getting ripped off or robbed by older kids. Then when I was a Sophomore I had better connections and I was a habitual marijuana user my sophomore through my senior year of high school.
Everything is cool until one night when I was 17. I was parked in a lot on Ash and 5th near Mill Ave smoking a bowl with some friends. My buddy opened his passenger door and let all the smoke out right as bicycle cops rode by my truck. I see a beam of a flash light hit my bowl as I am loading it and I look up to see a cop watching me pack it. I instantly give up. I was arrested and was looking at 2 felonies. 1 for 3 dollar’s worth of marijuana and 1 for the pipe I was smoking it in. Because I was 17 my parents were allowed to give the other kids mom permission to take me home so I wouldn’t have to go to Jail.
So I was just arrested and looking at being a double felon at 17. Did that deter me from smoking marijuana? No. Not at all. I went right back to it but unfortunately I got arrested again 2 weeks later. This time I had just turned 18. What happened was I was at my friend’s house smoking with a group. My buddy told me he was being watched by under covers because he was pushing a lot of cocaine. I didn’t think much of it. I was not into cocaine and didn’t think I it had anything to do with me.
After I leave his house I am pulled over just 3 minutes later. It started off with an undercover envoy and some rookie who approached my window. He tried to convince me it was a routine traffic stop but with in minutes he was gone and replaced by a huge man with a goatee, pony tail, tight black t shirt and his badge hanging around his neck from dog tags.
He comes up to my window in fill interrogation mode. At this time I had a bong hidden in my subwoofer port and a gram of shwag in my sock.
The officer persuaded me and one of my passengers to exit the vehicle so they could question us separately. I had 2 passengers and by the time I was being questioned one of my friends was already arrested.
It was obvious this wasn’t routine because the 1 undercover envoy turned into a convoy of 3 under covers, 2 marked cursers and a K-9 unit. That’s an expensive routine traffic stop.
They interrogate me about drugs and I got scared and ended up admitting to having a bong but not taking ownership of it. The dog then smelled the gram in my sock and I ended up getting arrested for the gram in my sock but they did not charge me for the bong.
So there I was, 18 and just got my 3rd felony arrest in 2 weeks. I was scared, I asked the police what was going to happened because I was just arrested so recently. I had not even gone to court for the first 2 felonies.
The cops made comments with smirks “Oh you’re going to jail! You’re going to jail!” Then had to nerve to say “And you weren’t even caught with the good shit.” I did not want to go to jail and they told me there was a way to get this one taken off.
I asked how and they pulled me into a private room to try to give me an opportunity. They wanted me to narc someone else out by buying weed for the cops from a dealer and in turn I would not be going to jail. In a tripped out state I agreed. In my selfish train of thought was thinking there must be someone I can pawn this on who isn’t looking at 3 felonies. I look back now and a ashamed the though had crossed my mind but I ended up not even going through with it.
They wanted me to buy a pound of weed. 1. I only bought nickels and dimes. I had no clue where to get a pound. 2. I was just arrested back to back and now I am going to be looking for a pound? No way. That is a dead giveaway there was no way I could pull that off. I would be dead. So I just never called the cops back. Eventually they put out a felony warrant out for my arrest for not cooperating. Then a little while later on the way to Panda Express I was pulled over for my license place not being lit.
I ended up getting arrested for the 4th time over cannabis that night, I went to jail overnight, saw a midnight judge, and got a court date. This time when they arrested me they handcuffed to a Mexican who didn’t speak English with pink handcuffs then they put us in a cage in the back of the police SUV.
Since I was arrested for cannabis 2 separate times before I went to court for the first offense the court decided to cut me a break and count all three felonies as my first offense. They assigned me to 6 months of a drug diversion where I had to pay for weekly drug tests. I got probation, community service, and paid a few grand in fines and fees by the end of it.
After 6 months of teetering on the edge of being a kid and a multiple felon I finally passed the diversion program. I say “teetering” because even though I was in a drug diversion program I was still smoking marijuana every week. I just had to time it right and use a quick cleanse called “Cleansing Cocktail” with a multi vitamin and I passed all my drug tests with my own urine. So even being in drug diversion didn’t deter me from smoking marijuana.
After I passed the diversion program my charges were dismissed with prejudice. This means that civilians cannot see your criminal record but the federal government still sees it and discriminates against you.
Eventually I had decided to join the military. I wanted to join the AirForce but they told me I was not qualified because I was arrested for marijuana even though the charges were dismissed. The Navy was the same thing. Even the Active Duty Army rejected me. I ended up getting into the Active Army through a back door program in the National Guard called “Active Duty First”
Normally if you enlist for 4 years you have another 4 years of in active reserve time where you are a civilian but the Army can call you back in a major war. The Active Duty First program was different. There was no in active reserve time. My contract was 4 years Army then following 4 years Arizona Army National Guard. The main difference between the National Guard and inactive reserve is that in inactive reserve you are a civilian. In the national guard you still drill one weekend a month, train for 2 weeks, a year, and deploy just as much as the active army. However, if I wanted to, I could re-enlist in the Army and it would replace the National Guard time in my contract.
So I get in the Army as a Heating and Air-condition guy. I ended up deploying to Fob Gary Owen Iraq. When I was over there I got to talk to a lot of people from different parts of the world. I was talking to some Military Police officers about marijuana and they told me they are from California. Medical Marijuana was legal. Well I already knew that. What I didn’t know was that for adult use of marijuana, it was just a small ticket or a fine for a couple hundred bucks. No arrest, no criminal, charges.
When I heard that I got angry. They got a ticket? I got 4 arrests, dealt with 3 felonies, 6 moths of drug tests, thousands in fines, community service, a sketchy near narc scenario, family hardship, and its still on my record. I asked myself “What is really going on with this plant? What does California know that Arizona doesn’t know?
That’s when I started researching marijuana prohibition history. When I discovered that marijuana prohibition was a fraud to begin with I became obsessed. I learned that everything the D.A.R.E. program taught me about marijuana was a lie, I learned that marijuana was healthy and I learned about the miracles of industrial hemp.
By the time I got back from Iraq I was already beaming with cannabis knowledge. You get a lot of downtime during a deployment. Another thing I learned in Iraq was that the wars and the military industrial complex are a for profit corporate business about economic control over 3rd world resources we depend on and not about preserving American freedom like I had signed up for. That was getting me angry but did not expose itself until later.
Since my contract had 4 years of the National Guard and we were still at war with Iraq and Afghanistan like we are today. I figured I was going to deploy again even in the National Guard so I might as well re-enlist to go some were there are cannabis activists making a change.
I had seen online a picture of a billboard on the I-5 in Washington State by an organization called Sensible Washington with a picture of Washington and a fat weed leaf on it promoting legalizing marijuana in 2011.
That’s when I chose to re-enlist for Fort Lewis Washington.
When I got there I started connecting with local activists through Facebook.
I met an activist at a march in Tacoma named Jared Allaway. I noticed 2 very peculiar things. The first one was they were all protesting in the streets with signs. The second thing was they were all collecting signatures for some sort of petition. That petition was to legalize cannabis in Washington in 2011. It did not make it on the ballot but the activists tried again in 2012. This was about the time I noticed Jared Allaway and his Non Profit SaferShirts.org.
For a donation or for nothing at all, Jared would send shirts all over the world with the phrase “marijuana is safer than alcohol” stenciled on it. Safer Shirts was inspired by a book called “Marijuana is safer, so why are we driving people to drink”
As time went on I watched the 2012 campaign. I watched as the activists were undermined by big business under the name New Approach Washington (NAW). NAW came in with their bags of money and got their legalization initiative on the ballot but the legalization activists were warning the community to vote NO on NAW. NAW was not real legalization. They only legalized 1 OZ of store bought marijuana. Everything else is still criminalized and tremendously regulated.
In the middle of 2012 I got orders to Camp Humphreys South Korea and the day I left was the day Washington passed their horrible “legalization” initiative.
Jared didn’t quit. Instead he started a new campaign called REAL LEGALIZATION and continued sending Safer Shirts to people.
Shortly after I get to Korea, Jared sends me a red Safer Shirt. Then soon after I fly back to the USA for my mid tour leave. I stopped in California for a few days to go to a 3 day music festival called Coachella.
I wore my new red Safer Shirt the first day and it made me into a magnet for attention. This shirt was a power shirt. All day I was getting high fives, complements, people taking pictures of me, with me, and saying things like “You’re so right” “I Completely agree”. Some people disagreed with the shirt but it was always a good conversation. So I decided to wear the shirt all three days and it just as big as an impact all three days.
Then I go back to Arizona all buzzed up from Coachella and I am disappointed that there is nobody protesting cannabis prohibition in Arizona like I saw in Washington. I was thinking, one day I want to start a protest group called Safer Arizona. Maybe when I get out of the Army.
Well I go back to South Korea and it’s not back to business as usual. I had become increasingly upset about being in the Army. For one I was completely convinced our politicians are corrupt and sending us to war needlessly for profit. Two I saw that my people back home were hurting and I was wasting my time in Korea as a pawn for a 60 year old temper tantrum. I had become a conscience objector over time and was discovering it in Korea.
Then one day we had a battalion safety meeting. This is when my command sergeant major talked to a battalion of about 1000 soldiers on how to be a safe soldier. I was a Sergeant (E-5) and the things they teach us here are things I need to enforced upon the soldiers I was in charge of. They touch on things like, don’t drink and drive, practice safe sex, don’t beat your dog, and don’t beat your wife. This time my Sergeant Major told us that we need to watch out for a new drink called “Purgatory Vodka”. He told us that if we caught our soldiers with this drink we had to prosecute them with an Article 15 under the uniformed code of military justice which often results in a loss of pay, extra duty, a general discharge, and loss of educational benefits and VA benefits. Reason being? “Purgatory Vodka is infused with hemp seed oil, hemp seed is marijuana and that stuffs bad for you.”
I lost it when I heard that. That was the moment I mentally quit the Army. I was thinking I was going to make a scene in front of everyone but I didn’t. I lashed out another way. I was a sergeant living in the barracks in South Korea. I had extra income and almost no expenses. I decided to try to start my protest group in Arizona on the internet.
I made the Facebook page Safer Arizona. I first needed to somehow find an audience that was in Arizona and pro pot. I went to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Program Like page which had about 5000, likes at the time. I assumed that the people who liked the pictures on that page were probably Arizonians who liked weed. I went to the pics on that page and just started friend requesting people. Eventually Facebook blocks you from friend requests so you have to be careful.
Once someone accepted my friend request I sent them a blanket pitch that resembled something like this.
Hey (Their Name) I am Dave Wisniewski, thanks for accepting my friend request. The reason I requested you is because I noticed your activity on the Arizona Medical Marijuana Page. My friends and I are die hard activists for legalization and have started a protest group called Safer Arizona. We protest in public in safer shirts that say “marijuana is safer than alcohol”. We would like your help if you are willing. If you think you and a couple friends would wear these shirts in public, post pics, and send them to me so I can post them from Facebook then I will send you a few free shirts. Check out the page www/fb.com/SaferAZ
Only some of the people I friend request accepted and of those only a few responded to my message but those few slowly turned into many.
I was paying for shits from South Korea and having friends in Arizona send them to volunteers.
Once I had a small following and was getting shirts out to people I remembered that in Washington, Jared and his team were collecting signatures for an initiative. I was thinking that if these volunteers will wear shits, maybe they will collect signatures for legalization.
I contact the only activist group I knew of at the time which was Phoenix Norml. I told them about my group called Safer Arizona and asked if there was an initiative going on or coming up. They had told me a man named Dennis Bohlke wrote a legalization initiative and says he will file it in about a month. They linked me up with Dennis. At this point he was going to call the campaign “pathway to legalization”. He was seeking support from NORML to help run his initiative. NORML was not supportive of Dennis because the MPP was already planning on a 2016 initiative and they just wanted to wait for MPP.
I told Dennis, “You can file it or not, I am going to continue pushing these Safer Shirts in the state with or without an initiative.” Motivated as hell, he files the initiative. At this point it would have been appropriate for me to be the chairman but I was stuck in South Korea and could not legally sign as chairman.
Dennis then found Robert Clark and Mikel Weisser as core members throughout the campaign.
Through consistent social networking and proper channeling I helped build the safer community for about a year. During this year I took steps to honorably terminate my contract early. I was Discharged may 1st 2014, I am still just as motivated and excited to be a part of the movement. The only thing is I cannot afford to give shirts out for free anymore so we must charge to help keep them going. Safer Arizona forwards some of the funds collected from our safer shirt sales back to Jared Allaway.
So now I am here today. Dave Wisniewski, Cannabis Legalization Activist.