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Every so often in life one’s philosophy of freedom and justice for all can get personal. Today, I’d like to share with you the case of my friend Oshan Cook, who has been imprisoned and sentenced to 12.5 years over a non-violent drug offense. If you knew Oshan, you’d realize what for a kind and gentle soul he truly is: He’s the kind of human being that would never intentionally hurt anyone. So what is a man like him doing in Federal prison?

His case might be traced back all the way to October 27, 1970, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which categorized so-called “controlled substances”. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, “in June 1971, President Nixon declared a ‘war on drugs.’ He dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants.” It was the beginning of an intensification effort to criminalize the use and distribution of several substances, including mostly harmless hallucinogens. Many of these substances—when consumed privately in such a way that they don’t negatively affect other people—pose no risks to social welfare whatsoever; yet the criminalization of these substances has led to an explosion in incarcerated human beings in the United States, the vast majority of which are African-Americans, followed by Latinos.

Source: Wikipedia

But I’m not going to write about the failed “war on drugs” here—plenty of it has been written elsewhere (like in this excellent article advocating for a more compassionate, wiser approach to drug use and abuse, or the famous Rat Park study led by Bruce Alexander). Instead, I’m going to focus on the case of my friend Oshan Cook, who continues to be imprisoned, along with millions of other human beings in the U.S., despite not posing any threat to society, at a total cost to taxpayers in the millions of dollars.

Oshan Cook is a well-loved community advocate and a lifelong social justice activist from the San Francisco Bay Area. He founded a tea house called “Om Shan Tea” in the Mission District—which was a popular and relaxing meeting place for artists, musicians, and spiritual community members—through which he introduced people to the magic and beauty of tea culture. His mobile tea setups, tea workshops, and other non-profit community activities earned him a reputation of goodwill among thousands in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Oshan founded a tea house called “Om Shan Tea” in the Mission District, through which he introduced people to the magic and beauty of tea culture. His mobile tea setups, tea workshops, and other non-profit community activities earned him a reputation of goodwill among thousands in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Twitter hashtag: #FreeOshan

On April 26, 2013, a judge decreed a sentence of 12.5 years in federal prison on charges of possession of LSD and conspiracy to distribute MDMA—two psychedelic substances. Oshan’s sentence was eventually reduced to 10 years due to a Congressional sentencing reform. Oshan’s conviction followed two jury trials, with the first ending in a hung jury; he is currently serving time at Taft Correctional Camp in Taft, California, near Bakersfield.

Since President Obama recently commuted the sentences of 61 non-violent drug offenders, we propose that the President include Oshan in his clemency before leaving office. To get the attention of the White House, please sign the petition to the White House here and then share this article on social media: Click here to sign the petition.

To learn more about Oshan, you can visit his website here: http://www.teanotprison.net

Thank you for taking an interest in Oshan and his life. It doesn’t stop with Oshan: Millions of other human beings continue to be imprisoned on non-violent drug offenses. Let’s #FreeOshan and, together, continue to shine light at a corrupt system so people can finally see it for what it truly is.

Martin Adams | Executive Director, Progress.org

Martin Adams
Executive Director, Progress.org

Oshan and I at Taft Correctional Institution, Taft, CA, 2015.

Call to Action: Sign a petition to the White House.

Correction [April 7, 2016]. Oshan’s lawyer offered several corrections to an earlier version of this article:

  • an earlier version of this article stated that Oshan was sentenced to a 12.5 year “mandatory minimum” sentence. However, the “mandatory minimum” for the possession of LSD in Oshan’s case was 10 years; the judge sentenced Oshan to 12.5 years in accordance with standard sentencing guidelines, which were subsequently reduced to 10 years through a Congressional sentencing reform.
  • an earlier version of this article stated that Oshan was sentenced “without parole”. However, Oshan may be released on parole after 7 years (provided he doesn’t receive a Presidential Commutation first).
  • an earlier version of this article stated he was charged with distributing MDMA. However, Oshan was charged with possession of LSD and conspiracy to distribute MDMA.
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