Cannabis companies helping free inmates doing time for selling or possession despite legalization in many states
Legalizing and taxing the drug in states such as California and Colorado brought in huge revenues, but it conveniently left out those who were still incarcerated for selling or possessing marijuana
Space X founder Elon Musk recently took to Twitter to point out how selling weed is now legal in several parts of the country, but thousands are still rotting behind bars for the same offense. "This will probably get me into trouble, but I feel I have to say it," Musk tweeted, before adding in a follow-up tweet, "Selling weed literally went from major felony to essential business (open during the pandemic) in much of America & yet many are still in prison. Doesn’t make sense, isn’t right."
Musk's train of thought was acknowledged and appreciated by UFC commentator and podcaster Joe Rogan, who seconded the Tesla CEO's statement. "Elon is right," he told his millions of followers. It is true that thousands of prison inmates are doing time for marijuana despite the drug being legalized in many states.
Marijuana became legal in over 25 states after the Free the Weed movement, which was arguably inspired by rational self-interest. Legalizing the drug and taxing it in states such as California and Colorado made sense considering the nation was in a recession at the time. However, it conveniently left out those who were still incarcerated for selling or possessing marijuana. "Dispensary owners make billions of dollars a year from marijuana sales. The federal and state governments make millions of dollars from marijuana taxes. Where is the help for the marijuana inmates?" Amberly Taylor questioned in an op-ed for Westword.
She noted how there are currently 119 federal inmates serving life in prison for marijuana, and highlighted the case of Richard DeLisi - a federal inmate serving a staggering ninety-year sentence for welding boxes meant to transport marijuana for his boss's company. In yet another case, Lance Gloor was sentenced to ten years for running a legal marijuana dispensary in Washington state after being raided by federal authorities over his operation.
"Where are the people who profit from weed who should be trying to set this man free?" Taylor continued, before recalling how it took "nine years to get my father, Thomas Landreth, an Oklahoma inmate, home from a marijuana charge."
She wrote that the only reason the State of Oklahoma allowed his release was because he is dying of cancer. "The social dilemma behind keeping weed prisoners locked up is more than a legal dilemma; it is a moral dilemma," she added. "Many people have been on the front line of protests, with people begging for their loved ones to come home."
According to her, empathy is the only way to end this dilemma that is entrenched in society for "keeping people locked up for weed while others can purchase marijuana in a store legally." One simply cannot ignore the endless reports of horrific abuse suffered by marijuana prisoners, who are mostly non-violent.
In a recent USA Today article, Eileen Rivers noted how the “nation's failed weed war turned many into prisoners and others into moguls.” Fortunately, there are some industry leaders who have taken it upon themselves to free such inmates from jail. Several cannabis companies in the state of Michigan have started setting aside profits in a bid to help free those convicted on cannabis charges.
Last month, Green Peak Innovations launched its Two Joints value flower brand in partnership with the popular Last Prisoner Project. Meanwhile, a former inmate in Lansing launched Redemption Cannabis Company, which reportedly donates 10% of its profits towards criminal justice reform. According to the Detroit Free Press, about 235,000 people in Michigan have misdemeanor records for marijuana use or possession. And while the number in prison is decidedly smaller, they add up to around 40,000 inmates across the nation, per the Last Prisoner Project.
Green Peak, since its inception, has contributed funds to state lobbying efforts in a bid to expunge such convictions. “We’ve supported a number of bills, some more quietly than others,” CEO Jeff Radway told Benzinga. “Frankly, we’re trying to do what’s right before we’re doing what’s good from a publicity standpoint.”
The company's Two Joints “social equity and social justice” initiative will funnel part of its revenue to fixed monthly donations to the Last Prisoner Project. “When we started the company three years ago, we didn't know a lot about cannabis, but we were business guys,” Radway said. “We had a strong sense that cannabis should never have been illegal. As we were starting a line, we were essentially planning for our success, it didn’t feel right not to find an organization and a cause that we could support and bring it full circle.”
While funding the Last Prisoner Project is the first step for the company, they are now working towards hiring individuals who have been released from prison. “There’s a huge need out there to not only advocate for people that need to be released but also be reintegrated into society,” Radway told the outlet.
Meanwhile, Ryan Basore, who spent six years of federal prison for the cultivation of marijuana, is working on a similar model for his business. His company Redemption Cannabis Company donates 10% of sales to a nonprofit that furnishes commissary cash to inmates with marijuana-related convictions, helps released prisoners reintegrate back into society, as well as lobbies Lansing officials for criminal justice reform.
“I was in there for a few years, so I understand what it’s like,” Basore told the Lansing City Pulse. “I want to put money on people’s books and help them after they get out too. If you don’t have great friends, family, and a support system, you can really be set up to fail after you get released. I want to help.”
If marijuana sales are legal in so many states across the US, it is only logical that prisoners convicted of related crimes be freed as soon as possible.