Alvi Ghaznavi’s cannabis journey began in his early 20s as a patient looking to treat his Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms that had once made work impossible and life unbearable. He’d pivot from the underground to the New Jersey medical market when the state legalized its use.
Living what he called “a very wholesome, blessed life,” Ghaznavi experienced a wave of personal milestones. By 2018, he’d gotten married to Juli, having their first child, Aniq, later that year. Their home and family, including their three dogs, were taking shape. The couple often hiked and enjoyed hosting dinner parties. They also took part in the Brown Paper Bag Movement, an organization focused on supporting the homeless with food and other essentials.
In addition to helping others, business was frequently on his mind. “He’s always been an entrepreneur,” recalled Juli Ghaznavi, noting her husband operated diverse ventures, from EMF blockers to rare minerals and crystals.
Ghaznavi also brought his entrepreneurial spirit into the cannabis space. He moved further into the medical arena, launching a CBD company, Miracle Seed, with Juli and friend Eric. All the while, Ghaznavi continued to dabble in the illicit marketplace, receiving cannabis and selling to community members seeking medical cannabis. His love and knowledge for the plant grew; so did his desire to provide others with similar medical results.
“I became a connoisseur, and I also wanted others to have safe, affordable access to cannabis,” he told High Times.
On September 21, 2018, life would change when the police and a narc team from the postal office arrested Ghaznavi at home while his wife and three-week-old-son slept in the family bed. He was charged with first-degree maintaining and operating a CDS facility. Today, Ghaznavi is confined to the South Woods State Prison in New Jersey, serving a minimum three-year sentence that could reach 12. All the while, Juli and their son await his return.
Juli told High Times that every day feels like a marathon without an end in sight. “Everyone is beyond exhausted, depleted, and on some days, overcome with feelings of helplessness,” she said, adding that Aniq’s “sadness is really the most tragic part of it all.”
Fearing Decades in Prison, a Plea Deal is Taken
The arrest shocked the Ghaznavis. Alvi went from preparing for his 3 p.m. realtor appointment to scout store locations to being in the back of a squad car. Juli, naked and in bed with their son, was soon pulled away from her child. She reported most officers wanting to take her outside without any clothes on, except one officer who allowed her to put on a shirt.
Once outside, Juli went from confusion and anger to empathy for her husband. There he was, sitting in the back of a cop car in just his bathrobe. “He gave me one glance from the corner of his eye,” she recalled, noting the sadness in Alvi. “He couldn’t even lift his head,” she added.
He remembered thinking, “I couldn’t believe so many heavily armed cops were sent to arrest a harmless, unarmed family.”
The two were released after posting bail, only to come home to a life ransacked. “Aside from the cannabis, the police took most of our life savings, both of our vehicles, my cellphone with pictures that were priceless and our inventory for our CBD business,” he stated.
Child Protective Services also became a regular fixture in their lives over the next three months until they were deemed fit to keep their son.
He was initially wanting to fight the charges, contending that prosecutors opened the case unconstitutionally. Ghaznavi said he changed his mind when Juli was charged with taking part in the operation. He believes prosecutors used his wife as leverage. Like many others profiled in the series, Ghaznavi said he felt pressured to admit guilt despite wanting to go to court. In the end, the risk was not worth trying to prove his innocence.
“If we lost the trial, my wife would have 10 to 20 years, and I would face 20 to life,” said Ghaznavi, emphasizing they had only been arrested for cannabis and cash, not guns or harder drugs.
Ghaznavi stated that pleading guilty and turning himself in was difficult. However, it was an easy decision to make as a husband and a father. In the end, Juli received probation.
Prison Impacts The Ghaznavis, Leading To Alvi’s Epiphany
In October 2019, with their child a year old, Ghaznavi began serving his sentence. The initial transition to prison was trying. He noted initial struggles adjusting to 18 hours of daily cell confinement, prison food and limited time to speak with family and friends. Access only became worse during the pandemic, with in-person visitations suspended. Once reopened, the Ghaznavis say Juli was denied visitation access due to her probation.
Adjusting to the prison population was another concern. Ghaznavi was housed in maximum security for much of his stay, living with serious offenders and lifers. At the end of August, he told High Times he was being transferred to a new facility.
Still, he said the most complicated adjustments were the lack of freedom to walk around and spend time with his now nearly three-year-old son. Juli remembers her son losing a significant amount of weight once Alvi went to prison, noting his drop from the 80th percentile of infants to 30th percentile.
“It was devastating as a mom,” she said. While he has regained much of his weight, Juli reports the pain of not having his father persists. She recalls choking up anytime their son comes across a dandelion or when someone asks what he wants for his birthday.
“He always says for dad not to be stuck,” she said.
Despite the pains of being away and the constant threat prison presents, Ghaznavi says prison helped build his mental fortitude. “After a while, I came to realize that they can imprison my body but not my mind.” He noted he is an avid reader that enjoys meditating and working daily.
Ghaznavi elaborated, “Prison helped me realize that happiness is a choice no matter the circumstances, and I learned how to be grateful even for the little things.”
As Dispensaries Profit, Alvi Ghaznavi Awaits His First Parole Hearing
An October 2022 parole hearing will be Ghaznavi’s first chance at freedom. If he does not receive parole, Ghaznavi’s sentence could keep him in prison until February 2028. Meanwhile, the family and groups like the Last Prisoner Project advocate for his release.
He hopes that readers understand that his story represents a contrast in the emerging world of legal cannabis. As prisoners and families suffer, operators are opening up across the country.
“At the time of my arrest, there were dispensaries in New Jersey that were running much larger and more lucrative cannabis operations than myself,” Ghaznavi said. He added that while the state profits off cannabis, it continues to impose harsh sentences on non-violent offenders like himself.
Ghaznavi hopes he can gain support for his release. He established a Change.org petition calling for his release and hopes that garners the attention of Governor Phil Murphy. He said he needs help securing his release so that he can get back to supporting his family.
“My family is going through it, and every day counts for us,” Ghaznavi said.