Charlo Greene: Why Alaska TV anchor faces 54 years for pushing pot

Charlo Greene, a former TV reporter who quit her job in Alaska to advocate for marijuana legalization, could be imprisoned for decades for offenses related to the substance.

Mark Thiessen/AP/File
The Alaska Cannabis Club, which is operated by Charlo Greene, in downtown Anchorage. Greene is facing more than 50 years in prison for charges related to marijuana distribution at her club.

A former TV reporter in Alaska is facing more than 50 years in prison for marijuana-related charges, a sentencing she says is unfair given the drug’s move toward legalization.

The legal status of marijuana is a major point of debate in cities and states across the country, and many have decried harsh sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Critics have called for an end to mass incarceration involving those with minor offenses, and President Obama has commuted the sentences of more than 650 prisoners – more than the past 10 presidents combined.

While Alaska became the third state to legalize the drug for recreational use nearly two years ago, adoption of rules and regulations for implementing the law have been slow to come. The state has only approved 17 retail licenses, none of which have opened for business. Meanwhile, investigators have targeted those, such as TV journalist Charlo Greene, who tried to skirt regulations that she says don't reflect the current law. Advocates say the prosecution is racially biased against Ms. Greene, who is black, and perpetuates "tough on drugs" policies that have had an undue impact on minorities.

"It's almost dizzying when you try to make sense of it," Greene told The Guardian. "It could literally cost me the rest of my adult life."

Greene, now 28, became a viral sensation two years ago after quitting her reporting job at a CBS affiliate in Anchorage on air following a segment on a medical marijuana group. Greene, who was actually the owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club featured in the segment, told viewers about her role and said that she planned to put “all of my energy toward fighting for freedom and fairness, which begins with legalizing marijuana here in Alaska."

"As for this job," she added. "Well, not that I have a choice, but, [expletive], I quit."

Greene left behind her career in journalism to focus on advocacy. While the state had legalized the sale, manufacture, and possession of marijuana, regulations for retail operations lagged. To compensate for the lack of options, Greene allowed its members to join the club, making donations in exchange for marijuana.

Authorities cracked down on the club's unlicensed activity, staging several undercover purchases and two raids. As a result, Greene faces 14 charges of "misconduct involving a controlled substance," which could land her in prison for 54 years.

Some find the charges against Greene especially harsh, given Alaska’s history with the drug. Using marijuana within a private home has been legal since the 1970s, and the drug was approved for medical use in 1998. Still, a lack of regulation around the substance has brought confusion and delays, making the now legal drug still difficult to access.

Greene has pleaded not guilty to the charges against her and is awaiting a trial. Experts say it’s unlikely she’ll be sentenced to serve decades in prison, as her offense resembles that of someone selling alcohol without the proper licensing rather than trafficking illegal drugs.

Still, the charges and trial have disrupted Greene’s life and her business.

"It casts a cloud over every laugh and every triumph and everything that I'm building and looking forward to," Greene said.

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