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'Unrepentant Ganja Man' James Tranmer Talks Prison, Clemency And Religion

James Tranmer doesn’t smoke weed anymore. Not because he has anything against it now, or because he doesn’t feel that spiritual connection anymore.

He doesn’t smoke because he knows what would happen if the Department of Justice found any trace of marijuana in his urine. He’d be sent right back to jail.

"So many people advocated to get me out," he told Civilized. "I was given the last part of my life to be out of prison instead of dying in prison, so I’m not going to stand in the way of my own pleasure."

Tranmer is now in his mid 70s, and as he tells his story, he alternates between bitterness, acceptance, and hopefulness. After all, he was in jail for almost 24 years, and he’s had a lot of time to think.

“It has spiritual significance”

Tranmer has a long and storied history with marijuana. When he first smoked it, he immediately felt like he was reaching some sort of higher state of being.

"It had some kind of mystique, and I still feel that in many ways now," he said. "I don’t go for the medical benefits of marijuana. I feel it has spiritual significance in my life."

From then, he fell in love with the plant, and went out in search of others who felt the same way he did. He found himself in Jamaica, where he got involved with the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, a sect of Rastafarianism that views marijuana as a sacrament.

He moved his family to Jamaica to continue living this life, and soon spreading the love of marijuana turned into smuggling tons of it into the United States.

Eventually, Tranmer realized that profiteering was against the spirit of the church, and distanced himself from it, moving back to the States. But unfortunately, his oldest son, Brian Tranmer, was just starting to get involved himself.

"A formidable foe"

His son was later caught smuggling a boatload of marijuana from Jamaica to Panama City. Tranmer knew about it, and tried to help his son evade the law. That was the extent of his involvement.

But due to his history with the drug and his brushes with the law, he was implicated in the conspiracy anyway. He was charged with conspiracy to import marijuana as well as conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.

"When you get into a federal courthouse, you’re up against a formidable foe," he said. "And the rules that apply to the defendant are not the same set of parameters the prosecution has to follow."

He has some thoughts about the way his case was handled. He wasn’t allowed to make his own statement. Of course, it didn’t help that he refused to accept that he’d done anything wrong, so he wasn’t really seen as repentant.

He was found guilty of both counts and sentenced to 35 in prison, or, ironically, 420 months. 50 years old at the time, he assumed he’d spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Prison life

As a spiritual man, Tranmer didn’t have much to say about his time in prison. He kept his head down, worked as many jobs as he could, and completed a number of programs. He mostly kept himself busy by writing. And writing, and writing some more.

“It was a way to pass the time,” he said. "You know, in prison there isn’t anyone, at least for me, that I had much in common with, because my philosophy of life was different."

He also applied for clemency, and received it during President Obama’s last round of pardons on his last day of office. On May 19, 2017, 11 years before his sentence was supposed to end, James Tranmer was a free man.

"Life is still life"

Despite the fact that Tranmer had been behind bars during the height of the technological revolution, he says that adjusting to life on the outside was surprisingly easy.

"Life is still life. You know, you wake up in the morning and you have to find a means of support. I had a few supportive people who helped me out, and subsequently, I never really had a difficult time with adjustment."

He’s now been out for just under a year, but he still has eight years of supervised release left, which means, among other things, that he has to stay away from marijuana. But that doesn’t mean that his opinion of the drug has changed.

"Marijuana is just marijuana," Tranmer said. "It was here long before there were any laws against it. It’s just part of creation. All through history, there’s been some people who have found happiness in smoking marijuana and that spiritual connection, whereas other people, they don’t feel that way. They feel exactly the opposite. However, some people can’t eat peanuts and some can’t eat seafood, so everything is not for everyone."


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