Hip hop icons Redman and M1 of Dead Prez will join cannabis activists in Washington, D.C. on Monday to protest the Biden administration’s failure to release people imprisoned on federal marijuana convictions. The rally, which is being billed as an act of civil disobedience, will bring together cannabis policy reform groups including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, D.C. Marijuana Justice, the Last Prisoner Project and Maryland Marijuana Justice as members protest in front of the White House on October 24.
Steve DeAngelo, a cannabis policy reform leader and co-founder of the Last Prisoner Project, said that he has helped organize Monday’s demonstration to bring attention to the plight of those imprisoned on nonviolent marijuana charges, often for decades. Activists hope the protest will spur the White House to take action on cannabis clemency before the November general election.
“As the nation heads into the midterms, I am calling for one simple thing— that President Biden keep the promise he made during the last election cycle, to release those people still serving prison sentences for cannabis convictions,” DeAngelo wrote in an email to High Times. “As the White House itself has admitted, the recently announced pardons will not free one single person.”
On October 6, President Joseph Biden announced that he had issued an executive order pardoning all people who have been convicted on federal charges of simple marijuana possession. An analysis of Biden’s executive order conducted by the New York Times estimated that the pardons will apply to about 6,500 people convicted of federal weed possession charges between 1992 and 2021 and thousands more with similar convictions in Washington, D.C. But the action provides no relief for cannabis prisoners currently behind bars, most on marijuana distribution and related charges.
“At a minimum, if President Biden really wants the support of cannabis voters, as a show of good faith, he should immediately release at least 100 of the 2800 federal prisoners currently serving time on non-violent cannabis charges,” DeAngelo said. “If President Biden refuses to act, I will gather at the White House on October 24 along with hip hop legends M1 and Redman, and hundreds of other cannabis activists, to hold the President’s feet to the fire.”
M1 said, “I decided to participate in this action because of the inaction of this government to step on the right side of his/herstory. My cannabis community deserves freedom and justice. And with my cultural activist comrades, we will keep our finger on the pulse of the People. Free ‘em ALL!”
Biden Administration Exploring Rescheduling Cannabis
Biden’s announcement earlier this month also included a call for governors to take similar action on cannabis clemency at the state level. The president also directed Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to review cannabis’ status as a Schedule 1 drug. Despite the historic nature of Biden’s pardons, activists argue that the president did not go far enough.
“I’m outraged that the President would make an executive action on cannabis but release zero of our incarcerated friends and family,” Kat Ebert, board chair of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said in a statement from the group. “He’s forcing us to raise our voices to be heard in order for the wider public to understand cannabis prisoners are still not free. On October 24th we plan to make it clear to the Democratic leadership that we won’t accept mostly symbolic actions. We demand clemency for all cannabis prisoners.”
DeAngelo is the co-founder of the Last Prisoner Project, a group working to free those imprisoned on cannabis charges. In addition to the activist groups involved, formerly incarcerated individuals and local cannabis freedom fighters will also take part in the protest.
“If President Biden truly wants to repair the harms of our nation’s unjust policy of prohibition, this initial progress must be followed up with bolder action—action that would actually lead to freedom for cannabis prisoners,” said Sarah Gersten, LPP executive director and general counsel.
Monday’s demonstration is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. local time at the gates of the White House, with Redman and M1 slated to appear to join the call for cannabis clemency. The crowd will gather at the Andrew Jackson statue in Lafayette Square before engaging in expected civil disobedience nearby, with the goal of drawing attention to the lack of people released from federal prison as a result of Biden’s executive order.
“DCMJ is joining protests to free all cannabis prisoners because we’ve simply waited too long,” said Adam Eidinger, co-founder of D.C. Marijuana Justice, a group that has spearheaded cannabis policy reform efforts in the nation’s capital. “We are excited that students are leading this effort to make tangible gains on freeing cannabis prisoners whose continued confinement is immoral and unjustified.”