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High Price:
The Luke Scarmazzo Story

High Price is a thrilling journey into chasing the American Dream during a brief window when it was open to anyone willing to take the risk: the Wild West days of California’s early medical marijuana markets. Luke Scarmazzo, a working-class kid from Modesto, California, started the first state-legal cannabis dispensary in the conservative Central Valley. From humble beginnings and hard work, it seemed Luke and his team of high school friends were on the verge of establishing generational wealth and getting in on the ground level of what would become a multi-billion dollar legal industry. This page-turning tale chronicles the rise and tragic fall of Luke’s pioneering cannabis empire. Written from solitary confinement in a federal prison ten years later as a pardon languished on President Trump’s desk, High Price is a mature and poignant reflection on poverty, opportunity, and the devastation left in the wake of America’s War on Drugs.

Who is Luke Scarmazzo?

Luke Scarmazzo is an entrepreneur and advocate for drug policy reform who served nearly 15 years in federal prison for opening a state-legal cannabis dispensary in California in the early 2000s. During his time in prison, Scarmazzo advocated for marijuana law reform and worked with organizations such as NORML and Mission Green. On February 3, 2023, US District Judge Dale A. Drozd granted his compassionate release motion, partly due to the changing legal landscape surrounding cannabis. Since his release, Scarmazzo has continued to speak out on the need for cannabis and criminal justice reform on behalf of Prophet Brands and various social justice organizations. He is the author of High Price: The Luke Scarmazzo Story, hosts the podcast “Joint Forces with Luke Scarmazzo,” and speaks at public events and to the media nationwide, sharing his story and advocating for change. Scarmazzo has drawn national attention and has become a symbol of the ongoing struggle for drug policy reform, criminal justice reform, and the need for social equity.

Scarmazzo was born on July 19, 1980, and grew up in a working-class family in Modesto, California. After graduating high school, he became involved in the medical marijuana industry, which was still largely unregulated at the time. In 2004, at just 23 years old, he co-founded one of the nation’s first state-legal medical cannabis dispensaries, California Healthcare Collective, in Modesto. The dispensary provided medical cannabis to patients with a doctor’s recommendation, and Scarmazzo and his partner, Ricardo Montes, operated it as a non-profit corporation.

In 2006, Scarmazzo and Montes were arrested and charged with federal drug crimes, including conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conducting a continuing criminal enterprise, otherwise known as the “kingpin” offense. They were prosecuted under federal law, which considers all forms of marijuana use and distribution illegal, despite California’s state laws permitting medical marijuana. Scarmazzo was sentenced to 21 years and ten months in federal prison in 2008. His case became a cause célèbre for drug policy reform advocates, who argued that he and Montes were being unfairly punished for providing medicine to patients who needed it.

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