Her Pot Activism Went Viral — Now She Could Face Decades In Prison

Photo: Mark Thiessen/AP Photo.
Charlo Greene became a viral sensation after she quit her job as a journalist on air and spoke out in favor of marijuana legalization.
Many of us have daydreamed about quitting a job in a spectacularly public fashion at some point in time. Charlo Greene actually did it.

The then-26-year-old broadcast journalist became an instant internet celebrity when she announced on live TV, “Fuck it — I quit” in September 2014.

It wasn’t low pay, long hours, or a bad boss that pushed Greene over the edge.

At the time of her notorious job exit, Greene was reporting on the Alaska Cannabis Club, which allowed people to purchase memberships to access marijuana while the state figured out how to implement cannabis legalization.

But, there was an issue with the story. During her time covering the cannabis industry, Greene had developed a belief that providing medical and recreational marijuana access to all people could help fight racial injustice in the United States by disempowering what she saw as the disastrous war on drugs. And, unbeknownst to her employers at Anchorage's KTVA, Greene was the founder of the club.

Greene knew that her reporting on the club was a major conflict of interest and that she would be fired if it came to light. So, she decided to take matters into her own hands, and quit on air instead. The video of her exit instantly went viral; it has since been viewed upward of 13 million times on YouTube.

The years following the incident have been tumultuous for Greene. Though cannabis became legal in Alaska in November of 2014, Alaskan police have twice raided her club. The state of Alaska is now bringing a total of 14 charges against her related to "misconduct involving a controlled substance." If convicted, these charges could mean up to 54 years of incarceration for the now 28-year-old. She says her attorney recently quit, and she is now in the process of finding new legal representation.

Greene is discouraged, but she’s not giving up. She’s trying to rally grassroots support for her case and the broader cause, with a Change.org petition, "#FreeCharloGreene Cannabis Advocate Facing 54 Years in Prison," and a Cannabis Freedom Fund aimed at supporting pro-marijuana legislation across the country.

Greene spoke with Refinery29 by phone from her home in Alaska about how people around the nation can join in the fight against cannabis prohibition.

When and why did cannabis become so important to you?
“I tried smoking weed for the first time when I was 16 years old and didn't really like it. To be honest, it was just really overwhelming because we have really good weed in Alaska. It was just too much.

"So, I stopped for a few years, and opted to drink instead, like most Alaskans do. My drinking progressed, and by my sophomore year of college, I had failed like six out of seven of the classes I was taking that semester. I was on academic probation and one of my friends was like, 'You should put down the bottle and pick up the bong instead and see how you like it.'

"I did, and I loved it. I went from nearly failing out of school to being on the dean’s list every semester thereafter. I went on to graduate cum laude and become a news anchor. I was smoking weed every day along the way. So, that’s my history with cannabis."

It’s on us, as consumers, to help change how marijuana is being portrayed.

The war on drugs is often portrayed as primarily targeting men of color. How does current drug policy also impact young women?
"Well, the war on drugs impacts everyone.

"The war on drugs is used as a tool of oppression on communities of color through the application of drug laws being along racial lines. As a result, it limits opportunities in communities of color, and that can be a plight to young women, particularly young women of color.

"The other huge thing it does is confines our options. When it comes to medicine and health, the war on drugs eliminates a lot of natural remedies that we might be able to seek for ourselves. It blocks us from accessing more holistic options, and forces us to take the more mainstream pharmaceutical routes."

What advice would you have for young women trying to get into cannabis advocacy?
"You need to be ready to do all of the legwork yourself. From the beginning, you need to know that it’s going to be a lot of work if you want to impact lasting change.

"But it’s worth it. So, take it upon yourself to get educated, and then start sharing that knowledge. If you don’t do it, no one else is going to do it. You just need to accept that fact.

"If you aren’t willing to step up, then I guess instead of helping direct that change and making sure it will help your community and the people that you care about, you just have to take whatever change happens."
Do you have any legal advice for people who want to start protesting against cannabis prohibition?
"I would say from a legal perspective, the best thing you can do is build up your alliances. Try to have as many powerful friends as you possibly can. That way, if anything should go left, you have people who can back you up and help you out.

"If you are going to be taking a stand and advocating for cannabis and working against the status quo, then you can expect that to happen; you can expect to run into trouble along the way. When that happens, it helps to have people with influence in your phone book."

What do the entertainment and media industries get wrong in their portrayals of cannabis?
"I think cannabis’ true potential is vastly understated. I doubt many of these people know what cannabis is really about, especially when it comes to its medicinal and healing properties.

"It’s on us, as consumers, to help change how marijuana is being portrayed. I think filmmakers and other media players often rely on using easy stereotypes to make whatever form of art easily connects with a wide audience.

"More and more positive stories keep coming out, where patients are able to publicly explain how cannabis is actually helping them. Then there are also more stories like mine that illuminate the injustices surrounding prohibition. As both of these types of stories continue to surface, I believe that will influence public perception about marijuana to shift. When that happens on a mass level, then the media and entertainment industries will have to reflect it."

If we don't start working against the confines that have been placed before us, then we’re going to be in this same situation forever.

In this crazy election year, what are your reflections on the current presidential candidates' stances on cannabis?
"I appreciate Gary Johnson having been very vocal about his support for cannabis legalization. Jill Stein has also been vocal about marijuana legalization and explicitly ending the war on drugs.

"It seems like cannabis is a simple enough issue, as the vast majority of the population supports, not only medical marijuana, but also the end of the war on drugs. The fact that the two major political party representatives haven’t truly taken a chance to reflect on our current marijuana policies is unfortunate.

"But that's why it's more important than ever that people make their political decisions based off what they know is best for them. They shouldn’t fear that if they go and choose a third-party candidate, that things would get way worse before it gets better. It’s just where we’re at, and if we don't start working against the confines that have been placed before us, then we’re going to be in this same situation forever.

"Vote however you feel personally, and the nation will have to deal with its decisions and the conditions that lead up to whatever does happen. But, continuing to play this game isn’t going to help our nation or us as people in the long run."

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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