The War on Drugs has led to the mass incarceration of millions of non-violent drug offenders in America over the last five decades, the majority of which are people of color. As a new era of cannabis legalization begins to sweep the nation, many within the emerging industry are wondering what they can do to help the over 40,000 people who are still in custody today for cannabis possession.
This conversation led industry icons Steve DeAngelo of Harborside and Mary Bailey of the Maui Cannabis Conference to help found the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), a non-profit dedicated to releasing cannabis prisoners and helping them rebuild their lives. Initially conceived in February of 2019, the organization was officially incorporated as a 501(c)(3) the following September.
“Our founders have been in the industry for many, many years, and as they looked around, they didn’t see enough representation of the people who actually built the cannabis industry from the ground up,” explained Bailey, the group’s Managing Director, in an interview with Green Flower. “(These are) mainly people who come from the traditional market, people from all different walks of life — a lot of people got left behind. We as an organization feel that anybody that has been, or is still, incarcerated, that they are victims of unjust laws, and that they’re the pioneers of this industry.”
LPP Focuses On Clemency, Reentry Success
The Last Prisoner Project has two main objectives — to help those incarcerated for cannabis possession get out of custody and to ensure they thrive once they have been released. Depending on the case, LPP works to assist prisoners file for clemency, compassionate release, and/or record expungement. The group saw their very first participant of the Compassionate Release Program leave custody mere weeks ago.
“He is at home with his family now,” Bailey beamed.
LPP’s Prison to Prosperity reentry program aims to support people recently released via specialized training and educational opportunities meant to prepare them for careers within the legal cannabis space.
“We realize we can’t just get people out of prison, we also have to help them rebuild their lives,” explained Bailey. “(The) main reason that recidivism rates in America are so incredibly high is because it’s so difficult getting quality employment with felonies on your record, so we’ve created a re-entry program that is creating pathways to employment within the legal cannabis industry for our participants.”
Bailey points to a partnership with cannabis staffing agency Vangst, who provides mentorship for program participants, including coaching on resume building and interviewing skills. She adds there are currently several individuals in the reentry program from a number of different states, including people who have been out of custody for a few weeks to several years.
Green Flower Offers $50k In Content Via LPP Scholarship Program
Another large component of LPP’s reentry efforts is offering access to education meant to equip participants with the tools they need to succeed in the new legal cannabis industry. Green Flower has committed $50,000 worth of scholarship funding to its best-in-class certificate courses to Last Prisoner Project recipients, allowing them to learn everything from cultivation practices to extraction methods and business leadership.
“We are so excited that we partnered with Green Flower to provide certificates and education for people who are in our re-entry program, so they can really be set-up for success within the legal cannabis industry,” Bailey said.
Retail Programs, Celebrity Partnerships Move LPP Front & Center
Last Prisoner Project has already seen strong support from across the cannabis community. Additional alliances include the Partners for Freedom program, a nationwide group of the most committed and generous partners who receive special designation in marketing materials, and the Roll It Up for Justice program, which encourages dispensaries to give their customers the opportunity to donate to the Last Prisoner Project at check out.
The organization has also enlisted several high-profile endorsements from celebrities such as Damian Marley, Stephen Marley, Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson, Jim Belushi, Melissa Etheridge, Redman, B-Real, and GZA.
“We want to work so hard and we want to be so successful we actually put ourselves out of business,” Bailey said half-jokingly, adding the future goals of LPP include broader worldwide initiatives.
“As cannabis becomes more and more legal globally, we want to go and assist with other countries as well, helping release cannabis prisoners everywhere.”
LPP is also currently expanding it’s policy initiatives to complement their direct service work with reform that will translate to broad, systemic change, according to Bailey.
“We feel it’s really important as new laws are being created for legalization and adult-use across the country, that Last Prisoner Project has a seat at the table, so we can advocate for the prisoners as these new laws are created.”
Bailey adds there are many ways to get involved with Last Prisoner Project, aside from the obvious monetary needs. She encourages readers to follow the group on social media or share their personal experiences on the Constituent Stories page. LPP also has a prisoner correspondence program, something near and dear to Bailey’s heart.
“I correspond with a lot of the prisoners and it’s tough,” she admitted. “It’s really important that their stories are shared, that the awareness is created, and that we all work together to release these people.”
To learn more about Last Prisoner Project scholarship opportunities and to apply, click here.