In our last cannabis talk with Danielle, I had mentioned that her boyfriend had joined us on our escape into the local woods and I want to share his story and albeit an incredible one.
Tyler J. Markwart (just a J, no real middle name) is a 35-year-old who has worked in the cannabis industry for over eight years and has been using cannabis medicinally for 21 years. For those of you doing the math, he started using cannabis at the ripe age of 16. Although, he does use cannabis recreationally, the majority of the time he uses is to maintain a healthy weight, keep food and nutrients down, and to just function as a normal person. To put it in his own words he states, “without cannabis, I would be dead”.
Tyler was born with a digestive tract disorder and a liver disorder that causes extreme nausea, jaundice, wasting syndrome, anxiety, and depression. He states “Cannabis reduces my intestinal spasms, nausea, [it] helps increase nutrient uptake, and relieves my anxiety and depression which is the result of knowing that every time I eat food, it is going to cause me pain, sometimes extreme debilitating pain”. Without cannabis, Tyler would have to force feed himself through excruciating digestive pains. The cannabinoids in cannabis sooth his digestive track spasms, allows for him to have an appetite, and helps keep the food down by reliving nausea. This one stop shop for his ailment has allowed him the freedom of not having to take dozens of pharmaceuticals with harmful side-effects.
With Tyler’s medical need for cannabis, it was only natural for him to have an interest in the plant itself, and he start a career in the cannabis medical industry. Over the last 8 years alone he has worked a variety of jobs within the cannabis realm from a seed breeder, a medical dispensary owner, a journalist for multi publications, marketing director, and a consultant. But it was during his time as a medical dispensary owner in 2011 (now, keep in mind that legalization in Washington happened in 2012) that his path really changed. Tyler ran a State Licensed medical delivery service, he verified prescriptions, he sold and carried his legal limit, he paid his taxes and he did everything that was expected of him under the Washington medical marijuana law 69.51a. On one occasion when a patient presented a medical prescription on tamper proof paper, Tyler verified the prescription and exchanged money for the product just like every other transaction his business did, only this time, Tyler was arrested and charged with manufacturing and distribution of controlled substance.
So what did Tyler do that would warrant his arrest and charge? Well, the patient was an undercover police office and the tamper proof paper was fake. As part of Tyler’s responsibility as a dispensary owner, he has to verify all prescriptions to be real. But what seems so unforgivingly unfair is that how can one person verify something as completely valid when the object of counterfeit is to make it look as real as possible, you could say even exactly real.
During his trail, Tyler felt he had inadequate representation and due to his lack of financial resources, an over worked public defender was provided. One issue that Tyler had to get around was his absolute need for the use of cannabis, even during his trial. He stressed this need to the judge stating that the court would have to recess for Tyler to consume his medicine outside. As medical cannabis was legal in Washington State and its Courts, Tyler also had a valid prescription, the judge had to agree and Tyler became the first person in the United States to legally be allowed to consume medical cannabis during his court trial.
Tyler had tried to prove his innocence but to no avail and was eventually convicted and sentence to eight years in prison. This prison, however, did not supply cannabis even if prescribed from a doctor. Because Tyler did not have access to his medication, his medical disabilities began to come back, he said “Some of that time was spent in solitary confinement because the sheriff thought I was faking my disability. They put me under twenty-four-hour surveillance”. They eventually had to take his health problems seriously after he lost 26 pounds in the first several weeks. After tests, different diet plans, and exhausting the prisons resources, Tyler only served 52 days and was released. “With the increase in housing expenses for my incarceration because of my disability and healthcare needs, I was released early from jail. I am currently "incarcerated" but I do not have a probation officer and my release terms are very light. Only restricting me from traveling abroad, no voting, and no gun rights”. One could say this he was lucky, but I would say the arrest and charge should have never happened in the first place. Tyler is now suffering from the three felony convictions that are still on his record even with state legalization and even with operating within the law in the first place.
Since his incarceration, Tyler works in the legal cannabis industry. He spends time lecturing and educating people at conferences and in classes about his knowledge of cannabis and the industry as a whole. He is also an avid medical cannabis advocate stating “cannabis has drastically improved my quality of life, I wouldn't be who I am, or where I am today without it. I am extremely grateful for all the hard work that medical cannabis activists have done over the years to provide patients, like myself, with safer access to our medicine”.
It is because of people like Tyler that have stood up for all of our rights to use this plant that legalization happened in Washington. It is also a reminder that when someone stands up for a cause on the equality and livelihood of others, they have also taken on the possibility of suffering for that cause so that others would not have to. Tyler did that for us and still does to this day saying “patients and recreational consumers are being arrested, imprisoned, felonized and fined every day because of the what they choose to do with their own body. One day we will look back in shame on how we have destroyed so many lives because of our attempt to legislate the possession of a plant.”
Spending the day with Danielle and Tyler, was eye-opening and humbling, I feel honored to meet these two beautiful people and hope that sharing Tyler’s story makes you give thanks to those who have given us the freedom to smoke on.