Unique in its operation out of an old prison in Coalinga, California, Evidence — a cannabis brand founded by siblings Dan, Casey, and Kelly Dalton — focuses on delivering justice in an interesting way. Through its partnership with the nonprofit Last Prisoner Project (LPP), the company is working to repair the transgressions of the war on drugs and cannabis-related incarcerations.
Evidence entered the cannabis scene in 2016, encouraged by cannabis advocate, activist, and LPP board member Steve DeAngelo, along with musician Damian Marley. Recently, I spoke with Dan, who heads the marketing of the brand, and Casey, the CEO, about their mission and goals as well as what it's been like serving the local community while cultivating, manufacturing, and distributing cannabis out of the old Claremont Custody Center.
Finding community and growing weed behind bars
Operating out of a prison wasn't something Dan and Casey originally set out to do. They were mostly looking to open shop in a tolerant and approachable community, but once they realized the potential of the prison itself — how purchasing it would positively affect the local community, and the opportunity it could give them to speak to a larger audience about the injustices of criminalizing cannabis — they got to work.
“Coalinga was $3.7 million in debt when we stepped into the city, and purchasing the prison for $4.1 million immediately pulled them out of debt. Then, we purchased a second property right next to it and were able to start providing tax revenue close to $1 million a year. Our ultimate goal was to make sure that, number one, the community was protected,” said Casey.
On the first walk-through, it was clear that the prison had been completely abandoned, and Dan and Casey could sense the intense heaviness of the building and what it must have been like to serve time there. “Everything was still in place, and there were some really weird things around. One thing that always stands out to me is a box of letters that were never delivered to prisoners, and that one really hit me. Somebody's daughter, somebody's father — somebody sat down and took the time to communicate with their loved one in prison, and that never got to them,” shared Dan.
But through that heaviness came creative and unique ideas to change the conversation around cannabis and justice. For example, Evidence packages its flower in actual evidence bags. “How disruptive would this be to sell weed out of an evidence bag, out of the prison, and call attention to the incredible work that the Last Prisoner Project is doing?” said Casey, who came up with the idea. And Dan agreed, “It's an unapologetic disruptor that starts a conversation. And if that's what needs to happen, this uncomfortable feeling.”
For every purchase of Evidence cannabis, $1 is donated to the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit that works for cannabis justice reform. “We're not saying they're the only ones or they're the best ones, that's just who we are involved with,” said Dan, who is also a board member for the nonprofit.
The family who smokes together stays together
Casey, Dan, and their brother Kelly Dalton, product guy for Evidence and CEO and co-owner of Ocean Grown Extracts, have appreciated cannabis since they were kids. “We grew up around a lot of weed and a lot of creative and spiritual people; so, we had a connection with it, and both of our parents consumed [throughout] our entire childhood. We were very fortunate to have parents that were honest with us, we were told that it was medicine from day one,” said Dan.
In addition to being a source of income for the community of Coalinga and the Dalton siblings, Evidence is also a source of family pride beyond the business itself. Casey shared, “Our father, who passed a few years back, made a comment at one point. He said, 'Do you know how proud I am as a father to know that all three of my children chose to work together?' I think that's a feather in his cap, that he did something right, where his children would want, in their adult life, to be partnered as more than just family members and siblings.”
Though it's been far from easy, the family relationship has sparked growth that may otherwise have been impossible. Friends, colleagues, and partners trusted their bond and chipped in. The siblings reciprocated that generosity. “I think we've been really fortunate that we're a family business and we didn't come in with a ton of investors' money or private equity or anything like that,” said Casey. “Damian [Marley] took the ride with us, we didn't have a check to write. So, he took a piece of equity as a friendship and as a true partnership. Some childhood friends of ours actually came up with the money to help purchase the prison. We gave them a piece of that. I feel like it's been such a collaborative effort of everyone joining arms and helping move this ball down the field together.”
Next up for Evidence
Evidence prides itself on being an outdoor grow, letting its cannabis enjoy the California sun. To truly cash in on the seasons of Coalinga, the brand brought on Kyle Walton, a longtime outdoor grower from Humboldt County, California. “He's been growing for the last ten years, and when we came up with the Evidence idea, he was the first call,” said Casey.
The company just harvested about seven acres of cannabis, and since its manufacturing facility is on-site, it's been able to produce oils, edibles, and other cannabis products all in-house. Evidence has used its large cache of genetics to create new strains, including recent fan favorites Hella Jelly, Berry Pie, and Caramel Cream.
As it grows, Evidence continues to offer information on justice and reform, donate to its favorite nonprofit, and employ members of the local community. “I think Casey used the best word for all of this: blessed,” shared Dan, “We're blessed that we're in this position. There's a ton of work to do, and it's not easy, but it sounds like some fairytale story.”