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Roger Davis on High Times cover
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Roger Davis – High Times Cover

Roger Davis, the ‘Marijuana Martyr’, was in High Times magazine in 1983, a decade after he was sentenced to 40 years for possessing and selling cannabis.

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At the start of the 1970s Roger T. Davis was living in a deeply conservative area in Southwest Virginia. Davis was a Black hippie, a true counter-culture figure. His life choices challenged the social norms: he purchased, smoked, and sold cannabis, whilst also being married to a white woman in a time and place when interracial marriages were not the norm.

In October of 1973, 28-year-old Roger T. Davis sold 85 grams (three ounces) of cannabis to a police informant. This sting operation led to investigators searching his house and finding a further 170 grams (six ounces). Davis was arrested and charged with one count of possession with intent to supply, and another for selling cannabis. He was then sentenced to 40 years in prison and fined $20,000 (today’s equivalent of $119,400 / €109,692.78) – receiving 20 years and a $10,000 fine for each count.

Roger Davis was dubbed the ‘Marijuana Martyr’ – a title he is still proud of today – and became a symbol for cannabis activists who fought against the discriminatory laws that were enforced in the name of Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’.

In the years that followed, multiple federal judges would criticize the sentence, stating that it was a cruel and unjust punishment that was grossly out of proportion when compared with similar offences in Virginia. The ruling would be overturned, then the state would appeal. Ultimately, the Supreme Court would side with the state. This hearing, entitled ‘Terrell Don HUTTO, Director, Virginia State Department of Corrections, et al. v. Roger Trenton DAVIS’, occurred on January 11th 1982. After the Supreme Court sided with the Virginia state, a re-hearing was denied despite claims by the defense team, who pointed out that the punishment was disproportionate with previous rulings.

In 2021, the state of Virginia legalized the possession and cultivation of cannabis, adding to a list of (now, as of 2023) 23 states that have now decriminalized cannabis, with a total 41 also having medical cannabis programs. In a follow-up interview with the Washington Post, Davis was glad to see that steps of progress have been made, but he also stated that the government “need to make it up to a lot of people… there’s thousands of people in Virginia that got screwed just like I did.”

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