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Pardon the Past: The Last Prisoner Project

No one should be incarcerated for non-violent cannabis-related crimes.

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Pardon the Past: The Last Prisoner Project
Courtesy of The Last Prisoner Project

Last week, many of the brightest minds in cannabis assembled in Brentwood to discuss one of the largest gaps left by the growing spread of legalization across the country—the tens of thousands of citizens still locked behind bars for non-violent offenses stemming from the marijuana plant—a now legal substance in most states. While we can all appreciate the growing accessibility to cannabis, many of those who were the most negatively impacted by the failed war on drugs are still suffering, and this event was a perfect reminder of the work that still remains unfinished.

Hosted in Jim Belushi’s elegant manor, and organized by the Last Prisoner Project, a non-profit founded by cannabis icon Steve DeAngelo, his brother Andrew, and Dean Raise, the evening sought to raise money to aid in the release of these prisoners, and to provide resources for their reentry into society post-incarceration. Run by powerhouses Sarah Gersten and Mary Bailey, the organization’s first fundraiser featured a who’s-who of cannabis’ most influential individuals, touching speeches, an infused dinner from Hosted, an acoustic performance by Rebelution’s Eric Rachmany & Kyle Ahern (a VERY rare treat!), and a silent auction of Michael Pelletier’s (one of the unfortunate souls serving a life sentence that the group is looking to save) artwork, in which all proceeds were deposited directly into his commissary.

Courtesy of The Last Prisoner Project

Once everyone had arrived, Sarah Gersten, the team’s Executive Director & General Counsel, kicked off the night with a touching speech about just how much could be done without extensive legal reform—such as informing the population of the new expungement and pardon laws which could clear the records of thousands who have been negatively impacted by these since-reformed laws of the past—and her persistent desire to utilize her Harvard Law degree for good. Next, Mr. DeAngelo took the floor, and noted how the idea for the nonprofit was originally conceived after he received a phone call from a friend who’d just been incarcerated in Pennsylvania, while Steve himself was in a meeting raising money for a legal weed operation here in California. 

Perhaps the most moving speech of the night, however, came from Deedee Kirkwood, the Last Prisoner Project’s resident advocate and a wonderful soul whose free time is spent writing letters to these nonviolent ‘offenders’ to keep them company. Deedee, who herself could’ve been busted dozens of times but has never had an actual altercation with police in the past, is impassioned about assisting this noble mission. In her own words, “these people will die in prison over a miracle plant”—and that’s something we can not tolerate. 

One persistent thought I had that night was how lucky we all were to be here—many of us happened to be at the right place at the right time as this green rush boomed, and many of us are much better off because of it. That said, many of these same individuals were involved in the industry before it’s rise to fandom, and thanks mostly to either good luck, or in many cases, the color of our skin, most of us survived relatively unscathed. For all our good fortune, there are countless others who were not so lucky, or were simply born a slightly darker shade, and while it’s important for all of us to see this community grow and prosper, it’s paramount to remember where we came from, and those who fell before we could stand. The mostly pale-faced event raised over $30,000 towards the groups mission that night, and while it’s just a small step towards what’s needed, I’m certain all attendees left the event informed and ready to make a difference. In that regard, the Last Prisoner Project is already making waves.

Courtesy of The Last Prisoner Project

I’m told we’re still a bit of a way’s off from formally introducing the Last Prisoner Project to the world, but keep an eye out for a very special feature coming to our print magazine this November on the mission’s founders. In the meantime, please text ‘FREEDOM’ to 24365, follow them @lastprisonerproject or visit lastprisonerproject.org to make a donation and get involved!

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