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What Five Years in Prison Taught California Former Dispensary Owner Dale Schafer, and Why He's Thinking About Getting Back into the Marijuana Biz

'Common sense and fiscal responsibility are becoming strange bedfellows in the fight to reverse how drugs are treated in our society.'

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A judge sentenced Dale Schafer to 60 months federal prison in 2008, but now the attorney and celebrity drug-war is out — and getting back into marijuana.

The 62-year-old resident of Roseville, a suburb just east of Sacramento, and his wife, Dr. Marion "Mollie" Fry, became a poster couple for outrage over the federal crackdown on medical pot when federal prosecutors indicted them for operating a clinic in the Northern California foothills.

The feds raided Schafer's business in 2001, arrested him in 2005, tried and convicted him in 2007, and sentenced him a year later. The couple eventually surrendered to federal authorities in 2011, and Schafer served five years before his release this spring.

This paper recently spoke to Schafer about his ordeal, and why he's decided to re-enter the industry by offering half-day seminars on the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act — and why he's endorsing the 2016 California cannabis legalization initiative, The Adult Use of Marijuana Act.

Legalization Nation: What happened in 2001?

Schafer: We were raided by federal agents a couple of weeks after 9/11. Despite having local sheriff's deputies at my house on numerous occasions, and inviting them up to view my garden, they came with several dozen agents, with guns drawn, to execute search warrants against my house and office.

And they finally indicted you in 2005?

About two weeks after the [Gonzales v. Raich] case was decided by the [the Supreme Court of the United States, clarifying federal police powers over state medical pot use], we were indicted and arrested on federal charges of manufacturing over 100 marijuana plants and conspiracy to manufacture over 100 plants and to distribute marijuana.

Describe your prison experience for us.

There isn't enough room or time to do justice to this question. I was sent to seven different jails, prisons or other institutions, over the course of my 52 months in custody. ... I was witness to corruption, inefficiencies, worthless programs, including drug-treatment programs and generally wasting time for inmates. I learned that prison solves little, deters less and creates as many, if not more, problems than it is supposed to solve.

Medical-cannabis-industry opinion on AUMA is mixed. Why do you support it?

With four states ahead of us on the recreational question, and the [United States Department of Justice] taking a step back if certain criteria are met, I believe the time is right to get as much "legalization" as can be obtained, while starting a comprehensive regulatory and taxation framework. AUMA is far from perfect, and I worry about the very sick, and my physician friends that recommend, as people switch from medical to recreational. I believe with attention to the regulation process, the major problems can be avoided.

Removing criminal sanctions for cannabis activities has long been a goal of mine.... When I left prison, I promised the guys left behind that I would do all I could to fight against the war on drugs, reform the criminal-justice system and bring effective, science-based treatment to all that need it. I see the possibility for AUMA to do a great deal toward those goals. Additionally, if California goes recreational, another floodgate will open. I hope it doesn't take another twenty years for the entire paradigm of cannabis prohibition to change across the country.

Why did you re-enter the cannabis industry?

I have experience and knowledge in the area. When [the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act] was signed into law, the questions began to fly. I read it and began answering questions. When it became apparent that AUMA was going to make the ballot, I read it and determined that it did much of what I wanted and that the downside was not bad enough to go against it.

What has your life experiences taught about supporting legalization?

I'm old enough to have been witness to many shifts in social beliefs. I was in high school when the 1968 Democratic Convention turned into a blood bath. I was in the military when we left Vietnam and Nixon resigned. The War on Drugs was put on steroids as I was becoming a lawyer in the 1980s and during the Clinton anti-crime period. I was lucky enough to meet, and befriend, Tod Mikuriya, and I read his marijuana papers, which opened my eyes to much. ... My tenure as an attorney has witnessed some of the horrors of the criminal war against human conduct that has fallen all-too-often on the poor and minorities.

I see a time when logic and science is holding the attention of policymakers, as well as voters. The hysteria and hobgoblins are still out there, doing damage. However, common sense and fiscal responsibility are becoming strange bedfellows in the fight to reverse how drugs are treated in our society, and the world.

I believe the power and the money have been driving forces behind prohibition, but average citizens see that also. It's time we directed our law-enforcement assets toward those we fear, and not those we are mad at.

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