The Fire Within: The Story of Ben Valdez, Jr. and His Call to Cannabis Activism

Share this with your friends

By Ben Valdez, Jr.

Fifteen years ago, on May 20, 1999, in Salt Lake City, Utah, I was preparing to go to sleep in my upstairs office at about 8 p.m. As I readied myself for bed, I thought how lucky I was to be a sponsor of Utah’s very first initiative petition to end medical Cannabis prohibition. Hempower Utah and Dr. Ken Larsen worked with me to achieve this goal.

Aside from the excitement of getting the approval by the Lt. Governor to move forward with the petition, it was an ordinary night. I thought to myself that it was just a night, like any other night, as I drifted away where no waking person can dwell.

I must have slept for about two hours,  just long enough to slip into a deep sleep, when I heard or felt something – it’s hard to say. I only know that something stirred me from my sleep. It was dark in my room. I opened my eyes to see three sets of eyes looking down at me. I had less than a second to think.

I was presented with a dilemma. Why were three sets of eyes looking down at me? What did the people behind the eyes want with me? Was this a friendly or hostile encounter? A home invasion? Why were they here in my house?

In a fraction of a moment I decided that I couldn’t risk doing nothing. I imagined my (then) wife and two-year-old daughter taken, beaten, raped and killed. In that moment, I did what any man would do to protect his family and property.

I fought.

As a former U.S. Marine, I went on autopilot to defend myself. I swung at the first set of eyes I could reach. I heard the thud. I felt my fist connect with a face and then I heard a loud yell.

From that moment forward I was taken from my bed and beaten relentlessly. I was swung and pulled in all directions like a rag doll. I was kicked and thrown against the walls. Still trying to gain full consciousness from my sleep, I was unable to successfully fight back at the three mystery assailants.
I have no idea how to track the time that elapsed. It felt like I was punched and kicked and thrown around for three to five minutes. After this, two of the assailants grabbed me from my arms and lifted me up. They moved toward the stairs. I was dragged by them as they held my arms.

I looked at them and yelled: “Who are you? Why are you doing this?”

I was about to yell “what do you want” when I felt a sharp pain in my spine. Still bewildered, I felt myself flying down a flight of ten stairs.

As I was descending in an arc, I saw my wife laying on the floor, her head down and arms out in front of her. She was surrounded by men in black, pointing guns at her. I thought it would only be moments before she was shot or killed. I could hear my daughter screaming in the background. It almost seemed like an illusion until my neck crashed onto the final stair, just by the front door.

Immediately after this, the two assailants who had lifted me by my arms fell on top of me, and the third person landed on top of them. I later learned the third assailant was the man I’d punched. He had kicked my back as the two other goons carried me to the top of the stairs. Then they all landed on top of me.
They walked on me like a floor mat as they recovered from their fall. One of them picked me up, took me out the door to the front porch, slammed my body onto the pavement, and ground my face into the cement with booted foot.

In the span of a few short minutes I had been taken from my bed, beaten, bruised and cut. Now my face was grinding into the front porch and my long hair was covering my mouth. I was unable to breathe.

I yelled: “I CAN’T BREATHE!”

“Wrong answer,” is what the boot said, applying more pressure to the back of my head.

Wrong answer? What was I supposed to say? So I yelled: “Can I breathe?”

“Wrong question,” the boot replied.

I thought for a moment. I didn’t want them to murder my wife and child. I tried to buy time and bargain with my would-be killers, so I went into Marine recruit mode and yelled: “Sir, please tell me what to say so that I can say the right thing!”

The boot responded: “Can I please lift my head so I can breathe.”

I yelled: “Sir. Can I please lift my head so I can breathe.”

The boot said: “I don’t know Jeremy, can you?”

I yelled: “My name isn’t Jeremy!” but the boot didn’t hear me. Finally, the boot lifted from my head. The pain was incredible as I swung my head back to see who my attackers were.

I saw the word POLICE on a man’s black shirt. My first thought was that the assailants were dressed like the police to avoid suspicion (since police raids had become common in America).
Another person came out and went through my pockets and handcuffed me. He asked me: “OK, Jeremy, where are the guns and drugs?”

I yelled again that my name wasn’t Jeremy. (Jeremy was a roommate who lived in a different part of the house.)

The man turned away quickly and started yelling into the house: “What’s the address here? Is this the right address? Do we have the right guy?”

It was at this point that it became clear to me that the bad guys who had broken my door down, yanked me from my bed, beat and bruised me were not common street thugs looking for a random stash. They were my local police looking for the cache of guns and hard drugs that an informant told them they would find in my house. There were no guns or hard drugs in my house.

They tore my house apart. They roughed up my wife and daughter. They almost killed my cats. They almost killed me.

They found less than an eighth of an ounce of Cannabis and a pipe. The only weapons in the house were a dull chef’s knife and my fist.

After the Salt Lake City Police terrorized my family and left my home in disarray, I called the only person I could trust – my good friend and mentor Dr. Ken Larsen. We videotaped the aftermath of the destruction and my testimony as well as my wife’s. Some have told me that they don’t think the police made a mistake – they knew exactly who I was, but had nothing on me so they used Jeremy as an excuse to get at me for my activities to free Cannabis.

Before sunrise, I was faced with a choice: bow out and end my endeavors or continue. Dr. Larsen stated that he wouldn’t blame me if I resigned from the THC Petition (Therapeutic Humane Cannabis Initiative Petition). But I began this journey to gain liberty for myself, my family and posterity.

That night was a turning point for me. I was baptized by the dharma of activism; I had no other choice. This “ordinary” night was seared into my soul forever. I had been forged by the fire of liberty. Backing down was not an option.

I will have Liberty, or I will have death, but they will never have my obedience.

This story, from Ben Valdez, Jr., of Hempower Utah, exemplifies why the prohibition of cannabis needs to be repealed immediately:  It only serves to harm men, women, parents, children and families. -Gradi Jordan