The holidays offer us time to decompress from a hectic year, reconnect with loved ones, reflect on what we've lost, celebrate wins, and — perhaps this year more than ever — appreciate what we have. For weed lovers in legal states, it's both a gift and a privilege to have access to the plant and the right to use it safely. And as most of us know, tens of thousands of Americans still languish in prison for cannabis crimes while the industry thrives.
Luckily, there are several ways you can give back and support those who have been unfairly disenfranchised by cannabis prohibition. The Last Prisoner Project (LPP), a non-profit Weedmaps has partnered with since its inception in 2019, is dedicated to bringing restorative justice to the cannabis industry. Founded on the idea that those who profit from cannabis have a responsibility to repair the damage that criminalization caused, LPP works tirelessly to free every last cannabis prisoner.
Here's what you can do to support their efforts and give back this holiday season.
The easiest and most obvious action you can take may also be one of the most effective. In the past year, the Last Prisoner Project protected hundreds of at-risk individuals from Covid-19, secured hygienic gear for those incarcerated, matched dozens of cannabis prisoners with pro bono attorneys, dispersed $70,000 to the families and children of those incarcerated, and spearheaded policy reform both on the state and national level — all thanks to the generous support of donors.
For more details about how donated funds are allocated, you can check out the annual report summarizing LPP's accomplishments.
Call your local officials
The combined horrors of mass incarceration and COVID-19 have created life-threatening conditions for incarcerated individuals. “Mass incarceration has left prisons and jails highly susceptible to an outbreak given overcrowding, lack of resources, and little access to medical care,” according to LPP.
Public officials can address this crisis in a number of ways by releasing people who are nearing the end of their sentences, waiving medical visit copays for incarcerated people, and, of course, releasing non-violent cannabis prisoners.
Contacting your governor or state's Department of Corrections can go a long way in helping the underserved and wrongly incarcerated. For example, Michael Thompson was imprisoned in 1994 for selling weed to an undercover informant in Michigan. Despite weed now being legal in the state of Michigan, Thompson will have to serve another 35 years if he is not granted clemency. At 68 years old, he is facing a life sentence — just for selling weed.
As a result of the outpouring of support and outrage for Michael Thompson, his case had been scheduled for a public hearing with the Michigan Parole Board on November 17th, which was the last step required for his case to move up and get signed byGovernor Whitmer. According to LPP, “This could not have happened without all of the support for Michael and the hundreds of thousands of calls, emails, and letters to the Michigan Parole Board.”
Contact your state Department of Corrections
Be a partner
If you own or work for a dispensary or cannabis brand that would be interested in freeing cannabis prisoners, LPP has several partnership opportunities.
Their Partners for Freedom Program connects brands nationwide to promote restorative justice in the cannabis industry, while the Roll It Up For Justice Program helps cannabis customers donate to the Last Prisoner Project at check out. They also have resources for budtenders looking to be reparative justice advocates.
Learn more about LPP partnerships
Join the Holiday Letter Drive
Help LPP reach their goal of sending 1,000 letters to cannabis prisoners this year by participating in their Holiday Letter Drive. Due to Covid-19, prisoners won't be allowed to see their loved ones in person this year. Heartfelt, encouraging letters let them know they are not forgotten.
Expand your reach by getting friends, family members, or coworkers to write letters with you.
Learn more about the Holiday Letter Drive
Support incarcerated individuals
Even after cannabis prisoners are released and their rights are restored, the nightmare doesn't always end there, they often need help securing work, housing, and other necessities:
After serving 20 years for a joint's worth of cannabis, Thomas Swinner was finally released from prison in Louisiana this past July. Despite initially receiving a life sentence, the Innocence Project of New Orleans helped with his resentencing and release, and now LPP is helping him get back on his feet.
America's longest-serving non-violent cannabis prisoner, Richard DeLisi, has been incarcerated for 31 years and will finally be released this December. LPP is fundraising to help him get back on his feet.
Sharing stories about the injustice of cannabis criminalization is an essential part of restoring justice for cannabis prisoners. Whether you're looking to spread the word or have a story of your own to share, the Last Prisoner Project has resources and opportunities for everyone at every level of engagement.
Featured image by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps