This article was originally published on Weedmaps, and appears here with permission.
In the age of COVID-19 and social unrest, many are questioning the systemic racism embedded in industries new and old. Yet, of all of America’s essential economies, the cannabis industry, while not necessarily equipped to correcting long-lasting systemic inequities at large, could instantly benefit those most harmed by the drug war through reform and more just policies.
Part of that has to do with the existence of organizations like The Last Prisoner Project.
Founded by seminal cannabis activist and weed-trepreneur Steve DeAngelo, known to industry insiders as the “father of the recreational cannabis industry,” The Last Prisoner Project’s mission is stated right in its title. The nonprofit coalition of cannabis industry leaders, executives, and artists is wholly dedicated to freeing every American imprisoned for nonviolent cannabis offenses, as well as bringing restorative justice to the cannabis industry.
But it’s far more than a collection of familiar faces extolling the virtues of weed and decrying its criminalization, it’s also an assemblage of legal professionals working tirelessly on campaigns to release and provide retroactive justice to prisoners from the War on Drugs.
“Marijuana, we know, is not a gateway drug, but it is a gateway offense, and it is so often the impetus for interactions with the police. Many of these interactions result in the most egregious examples of police brutality and police murder, particularly in marginalized communities” said Sarah Gersten, Executive Director and General Counsel for The Last Prisoner Project. “I think it’s critically important at this moment, as we are reimagining our justice system and reimagining public safety, that we figure out how cannabis laws fit into that puzzle”
Gersten took a moment to sit with Weedmaps and help break down why The Last Prisoner project is integral to the Black Lives Matter movement, why we can’t really smoke freely until all cannabis prisoners are free, and how the smallest of actions can contribute to lasting, positive change.
Sarah Gersten: Executive Director and General Counsel for The Last Prisoner Project.
WM: You recently published a blog about Michael Thompson, a prisoner currently serving a de facto life sentence for selling 3 pounds of marijuana to a police informant in the now legalized state of Michigan. It was the first time I’d seen the term “cannabis POW” and I had to take a moment to ruminate on how accurate it was. By your estimate, how many cannabis POWs are in similar situations to Thompson, currently serving time for nonviolent offenses in recreationally legal states?
Sarah Gersten: That is really difficult data to ascertain. Available data has …