HALLELUJAH! After 20 years in prison, Michael Thompson will be a free man come this January – but he could still use your help.
Thompson, who was originally eligible for parole by the age of 87, learned last week that he’d be able to start the new year right, and thats in large part thanks to the Last Prisoner Project. The nonprofit shared their excitement to their Instagram page, thanking all who advocated on Michael’s behalf after all these years.
Michael Thompson is just one of the many people The Last Prisoner Project has actively helped to be released from prison. He was granted clemency by Governor Whitmer on Dec. 22nd. This past summer, the group helped facilitate the release of Claude DeBach who’s now able to spend his time at home due to COVID. One in five prisoners have died from COVID since the start of the pandemic. It’s hard to count the number of people in prison, as the system is a “brutal bureaucracy filled with red tape,” but LPP is working to get out about 40,000 of the unjustly incarcerated for marijuana offenses.
Canna Culture Connect was able to sit down with LPP’s cofounder and director Andrew DeAngelo who spoke about the current state of cannabis, equity disparities, and the work he and his team tirelessly commit to, to advocate for clemency, release, and the overall support of those persecuted through the War on Drugs.
To Andrew’s admission, President Obama was pioneering in that he had done more clemency than anyone other commander-in-chief, however there are still a lot of people who deserve to be free. A quick visit to the group’s Instagram page will show you the heartbreaking stories of men and women who lost their freedom and families for “the same amount of weed your average dispensary would sell in an hour.”
In Andrew’s eyes, the cannabis companies that profit from the industry have a moral obligation to fight for the social justice of those incarcerated. His fight started at the age of 9, when his hero – his older brother- was arrested for the herb. Like many families, the prohibition of cannabis was introduced to the DeAngelo family when Andrew had to take that long, awkward ride to visit his brother who was behind bars. The was traumatic for many reasons, but mainly because a stranger tried to convince Andrew that his brother deserved to be there since marijuana was “bad,” and he’d be wise to not end up like him.
“It was absurd and contradictory and confusing for someone to tell you not to end up like your brother,” Andrew shares, adding, “That’s all I wanted to do was be like my brother!”
His brother, btw, is Steve DeAngelo, reputably known as the Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry.
The DeAngelos aren’t the only ones to go through this, obviously. Many families experience this, with 70 million formerly incarnated folks fighting to find employment with their records. Oh you thought this battle ended in prison? Aside from the phone call expenses (Seriously, how much is Secures worth?), the commissary, and the emotional toll, the detriment to one’s reputation and record makes it almost impossible to actually live. This is where the LPP comes in.
So, how exactly does the Last Prisoner Project advocate for inmates?
Well sometimes, the group works to get a newly free person an apartment, like they have with Michael Thompson, and even employment. With 40,000 prisoners, it’s tough to purchase homes for all upon release, however there are other ways LPP supports these martyrs. Record expungement, which involves the hiring of lawyers and heavy pressure on the elected officials. They are fighting for folks with felonies. Letter and petition writing programs ensures that prisoners have support while serving their time. The organization also offers scholarship programs. You see Edwin Rubis? He is currently serving 40 for a nonviolent offense, and in that time has received his Masters and is looking to pursue his doctorate. Read more about Edwin below.
Since their launch, several cannabis companies have joined the LPP coalition. Packs, Leafly, and even a partnership with Damian Marley and Ocean Grown Extracts are a few that have donated and supported.
Still, we have a lot of work to do.
“There’s not nearly enough ownership for people of color or women. We have to do better.”Andrew DeAngelo
Take Seattle for example. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board issued 556 marijuana licenses this year. Out of the 50 shops opened, guess how many were owned by a Black person. ZERO.
“We have to do better,” is right, Andrew.
And commitment is the only way to ensure that happens. The bright side is, many people are now riding the green wave, and are more receptive to the plant’s benefits. However, now that investors are in the picture, things have gotten worse, says Andrew. “A lot of capital came in and with it came a culture that’s not very diverse. And that culture is comfortable with people running their investments and companies that are not very diverse, so they hire them and then it gets bigger and then the problem gets worse. Then the politicians are so scared of cannabis, they erect these giant barriers for entry, and that makes it work.” :insert Andrew scoff here::
The Last Prisoner Project hopes for an ecosystem that has companies of all sizes. “We need to have more ownership for Black and brown people in this space.” Andrew passionately shares, adding “When we speak about consumption models and integrating cannabis in society, there may be more space for equity since they don’t require supply chain, compliance, and licensing.”
This is the moment. 2020 put the pressure on and we must keep feet on necks.
Before Last Prisoner Project, Andrew spent a lot of time trying to create frameworks and improve taxes and barriers of entries. But, losing and fighting is tiring. Through LPP, things have gotten easier since you can’t exactly argue with the need to release a person for a nonviolent offense from this holistic plant. The red tape however, is still too thick and too sticky.
For now, as Andrew stresses, there is much to do. And if you want to get involved, The Last Prisoner Project offers a myriad of ways you can.
You can also donate to Michael’s fund here.
If you spark up, this is your fight too. When we all roll together, we could light this whole thing up.