Hitting Home: One Family’s Struggle with the War on Drugs

On September 12, 2012, Chris Martin was arrested and charged with 15 felonies for selling his brand of canna-infused candy bars, Zonka Bars. Chris’s arrest caused much heartbreak to not only his wife – who had also been charged with 11 non-violent marijuana felonies – and family, but Arizona’s medical marijuana community as a whole, who had come to love Chris and his Zonka Bars. Chris was released in 2015, after much campaigning from POW 420. Chris and his family now run Hempful Farms Cafe, and thankfully lives a more peaceful life nowadays. As Chris and co work with hemp-based cannabidiol (CBD) in their cafe – with hemp from licensed producers, of course – they no longer need to fear the law shutting down their business anymore (well, hopefully, anyway). However, we will say that CBD isn’t the only cannabinoid that has potential medical applications, and it is definitely worth getting a medical marijuana card if you want to truly get the most out of the potential medical benefits of cannabis.

Chris’s life wasn’t always like this, though. We thought to catch up with him and ask how his life’s been since being released from prison, as well as what it was like before and during.

When and why did you start using cannabis? Do you use it for medical purposes?

Actually, as a kid growing up, my parents were into cannabis. My mom was what you consider a “hippie”. When I was a kid, she would make salves, lotions, oils and tinctures. If we [Chris and family] ever had an upset stomach or a burn or anything wrong, we’d just use mommy’s elixirs or mommy’s juices or mommy’s butters and so on!

It wasn’t until I was a little bit older that I really realized what was happening. We grew up in Kansas, which is kind of a very “Bible Belt” area in the country, so I actually moved out west as a young kid to go to college to try and get to a more welcoming area for cannabis, because I was afraid of getting in trouble for it back home. Once I came to Arizona, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s, where I was given a license for my medical condition in 2010. Then, ironically, in 2012, I went to prison for it.

This was after the fracas with Zonka Bars, is that right?

Yes. We were given a license to grow. My and I wife both became growers. We were allowed 12 plants legally as growers here [in Arizona]. The issue was we were only allowed 2.5 ounces of finished flower. So once we were cropping our plants, we would have in excess of 20 pounds between all of our plants!

We were caught in this grey area of having excess finished product, and no dispensaries open or any place to send these products without essentially turning into a black market drug dealer, according to our state law. So, I’ve been a chef for 25 years, and my wife has been a nurse for almost the same amount of time. So we came up with edible products, topicals, and eventually the brand “Zonka Bars”.

So you were given a license, but you were still arrested for marijuana possession?

Yes. We had a business partner who we had hired. He came in as an investor, but he also came in wanting to just do sales and get our product out there, because the dispensaries were set to open in 2013. So we allowed him to get out there and start getting our products into these shops. We were thinking that this was a good move, business-wise. What we didn’t know is that he was embezzling the product and selling it for cash wherever he could get rid of it. My wife and I were just losing inventory, not making any money, no income, and it started to go really bad really fast.

We asked him a bunch of questions, and within a matter of weeks, we were getting raided, because he managed to sell to an undercover detective, who claimed to have a medical card. So within a matter of days, it sounded like we had every jurisdiction in the state raiding my house and my business.

That sounds a little bit like entrapment to me, if the detective was getting a hold of a product by illegal means …

Yes sir. It definitely was entrapment. They came at me with very harsh charges. I was looking at 15 felonies. 4 of the felonies were class 2 felonies that held 20 years presumptives. I was looking at a maximum of 127 years. But the county I was arrested in is a very, very old-school, old money, old family kind of town. Instead of dumping my money – that I had stashed away into a lawyer – I took it and hired a private investigator.

So, we had dug up so much dirt on the county and the police that were involved that, when we came to the table to try and talk about trials, it [the charges] just came back as a 2 year plea bargain! When you’re looking at 127 years, and I go to trial and lose on one charge, I’m going to get a minimum of 30-40 years. It was almost impossible not to take the 2 years, do the time and come out and tell my story.

What effect did your going to prison have on your family?

This question for me is the hardest, because it’s such a double-edged sword. This is the question that everybody needs to pay attention to, before, during and after the events that took place.

To watch my 12 year-old now, who was 6 at the time during the raid, suffer PTSD almost like someone in the military … It’s heartbreaking. He is home-schooled now because he can’t function in a public setting. He’s afraid that, when mom and dad drop him off at school, that we won’t be back to get him, ‘cause when they pulled us over on the side of the road in ghillie suits, tanks and AR-15s … And it’s something they could have just knocked on my door for. I mean, we weren’t running, we weren’t criminal, we weren’t … As far as I knew, we were doing everything we were supposed to.

So when we pulled out of our house in Prescott Valley and I’ve got all my kids in the car, with no cannabis or weapons on us. We were just taking my kids to school, being a normal family. Then I look in my rear-view mirror, and there’s 15 unmarked cars following us. I look at my wife and she sees the fear on my face, and my fear is really driven because of the children. 

I really didn’t know who it was at first. As the cars kept lining up, I kind of got the gist that this was going to go badly really quickly. But no one pulled us over. We drove for 8 miles. Once I realized what was happening, I thought, “You know, they must have broken some sort of law by not pulling me over by now.” This would cause PTSD in its own right, if I wasn’t right in my head or this were to turn into a high-speed chase and endanger everyone.

But what I did was travel through the campus of the college, because I thought, “At least there would be some video. Get it recorded, showing these guys harassing me. Not even pulling us over.” So when I got to my kid’s school at about 7:30 in the morning, probably the most high-traffic, high-volume time of day, they hit us with every vehicle, every jurisdiction, ripped my wife out of the passenger seat by her hair. Ripped me out of the driver’s seat without putting the car in park. My 6 year-old was in the back seat, trying to sink between his older brother and sister. They dove through the back window of my car, wearing ghillie suits and screaming, “Where in the f- are the cellphones used? Give us the damn cell phones!”

All I know is my family was taken away and I was put in a truck, and I didn’t see them again for 9 days. That kind of action over something you’re licensed to do, is absolutely unnecessary and illegal. Considering the aftermath that we have to deal with now, and they have no repercussions … They’ve moved on, they do their thing … We’ve fought for 5.5 years for asset forfeiture, half-a-million dollars’ worth of property, and my kid sits inside and can’t even go to school anymore? It’s the worst thing I’ve ever had to deal with. That’s why he [my son] is the CEO of this company. He helps create. He helps heal. He helps learn and he helps teach.

So when did you get involved with POW 420?

I’m one of the board members. I was asked to join because of my incarceration and my background. As a freshman in college in 1993, I got sentenced to 3 years in prison for a joint in my dorm room. So that gave me the “historical felon” title for our state, which allowed them to give me the prison time on this charge.

So I’ve kind of been around here for a little while with pot charges! This organization stepped up real big to help our family. Once I met Dennis [J. Boisvert] and Adela [D. Falk-Wisdom], the two founders of POW 420, we fell in love! It was like a family immediately. I knew what they were doing was huge and needed to be done everywhere. So I wanted to use our story, our name, our brand, our mouths, our words, whatever we could to get them out there and be seen. The civil rights side really needs to be taken a look at, I think. Prisons, charges, sentencing and so on. The way I think to do that is through grassroot, organic sharing of stories, just like you guys are doing. 

Since I’ve been involved, I’ve seen at least two handfuls of people released, which isn’t nearly enough, but it’s a huge feat considering how small and grassroots an organization we really are. I think that’s going to change as we educate, share and spread the word about this plant. Anyone who wants to get involved should just contact us at pow420.com. They can get involved right away.

Please tell us what life is like as a nonviolent marijuana offender, and what life was like in prison as a nonviolent marijuana offender  …

As a non-violent offender … Watching the drugs epidemic in our prison system, and the people who run our prison system … Understanding that it’s rigged and allowing it to roll the way it does because of the financial side of things … Is probably the most frustrating. I watched 20-year old kids come in who’ve never done heroin in their lives, and then four months later, because they’re bored, the programming isn’t there, or they fall into the wrong crowd … Whatever the case may be, they are now PC’d [slang for “Protective Custodied”] up because they owe the dope guys four grand.

I’ve never seen anything like it. It was sad. It was infuriating. The rules put in place in prison are racially driven by the prison system to keep control of the place. You can’t share food with other races, sit with other races and so on … Yet, these guys are all sharing needles! Sharing their diseases. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. And it’s rancid. 90% of those guys are gonna come home. 90% of those guys are on minimum/medium [security level] yards, so they’re going to be released some day. Considering that they [prisoners] get filled with narcotics, the people who run the prison system know it’s broken. They allow it to be that way. We fill it full of drug users, people who can’t pay child support and illegal immigrants. It’s just really, really sad.

What has life been like after leaving prison?

Well, I can tell you, I have an amazing family. My wife of 20 years. We have 5 children. And I’m just a real stubborn guy who’s too stubborn to quit sometimes. I had a plan. I spent 4 years fighting my case. We started our hemp company, Hempful Farms, our pet products took off whilst my wife and son were outside and I was inside, they were on The Marijuana Show … They did amazing things with this brand. They did more than just help us survive; they helped us thrive, and got our product in 30 shops in Arizona and got it shipped to other states in the U.S. They’ve secured some of the best hemp producers in the country.

Within the first 100 days of coming home, we went public with our company, Paw Puddy Pet Products, which my son is CEO of at 12 years old! We stayed focused, kept our eyes on the end result, and that was sticking together, continuing to help people and get our product line out there. Not for monetary reasons, but to help people. I love getting a testimonial from somebody – probably someone who would’ve never spoken to me prior, especially if they had read the Zonka story. I’m just really humbled and honored to be given a second chance and continue to grow and flourish at what we’re best at!







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