Hip hop icons Redman and M1 of Dead Prez will join cannabis activists and industry leaders in Washington, D.C. on Monday October 24th to protest the Biden administration’s failure to release people incarcerated on federal marijuana convictions. Cannabis policy reform groups Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Last Prisoner Project (LPP), D.C. Marijuana Justice (DCMJ) and Maryland Marijuana Justice (MDMJ) organized the rally, billed as an act of civil disobedience.
What Will Happen At The White House Cannabis Clemency Rally?
Monday’s demonstration is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. local time at the gates of the White House, with Redman and M1 slated to appear to join the call for cannabis clemency. The crowd will gather at the Andrew Jackson statue in Lafayette Square before engaging in expected civil disobedience nearby, with the goal of drawing attention to the lack of people released from federal prison as a result of Biden’s executive order.
President Biden's Cannabis Pardons: What's The Impact?
Though President Joseph Biden announced on October 6th that he would be pardoning all people convicted on federal charges of simple cannabis possession, as well as encouraging governors to follow this example at the state level, many in the cannabis community feel this action accomplished practically nothing. Currently, there are no people serving time in federal prisons solely for simple cannabis possession - but thousands of citizens are incarcerated on cannabis-related charges at the state level, which Biden’s pardon does not impact. His executive order also has no effect on the numerous people imprisoned on a combination of cannabis convictions and other charges, in both state and federal institutions.
The New York Times’ analysis of Biden’s executive order estimated that the pardons will apply to approximately 6,500 people convicted of simple cannabis possession between 1992 and 2021, as well as several thousands more convicted by District of Columbia drug laws. However, these numbers are considered paltry in comparison to those whose sentences remain unaffected by the pardons. Many cannabis advocates, particularly from communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs, believe Biden’s announcement is another missed opportunity for him to live up to his campaign promises of national decriminalization and expungement.
What Are Activists Saying About Cannabis Clemency Ahead Of The White House Protest?
Activists preparing for Monday’s demonstration hope the event will provoke the Biden administration to take action on expungement before the midterm elections on November 8th. (If you want to support pro-cannabis candidates in Congressional, state, and local races this election, check out NORML's Smoke The Vote. Additional pro-cannabis voices in the Senate and House will get us closer to enacting legislation that legalizes cannabis nationwide.)
It should be noted that among the President’s announcements, he stated his administration would also review the classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act for possible rescheduling. This statement similarly fell flat with cannabis advocates, who are staunchly holding the line that descheduling, not rescheduling, the plant is the only step that makes sense for the future of an equitable cannabis industry.
“I’m outraged that the President would make an executive action on cannabis but release zero of our incarcerated friends and family,” said Kat Ebert, Board Chair of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, in SSDP's official news release. “He’s forcing us to raise our voices to be heard in order for the wider public to understand cannabis prisoners are still not free. On October 24th we plan to make it clear to the Democratic leadership that we won’t accept mostly symbolic actions. We demand clemency for all cannabis prisoners.”
Adam Eidinger, co-founder of DCMJ and proposer of DC’s Initiative 71, added that “DCMJ is joining protests to free all cannabis prisoners because we’ve simply waited too long. We are excited that students are leading this effort to make tangible gains on freeing cannabis prisoners whose continued confinement is immoral and unjustified.”
Kris Furnish, co-founder of MDMJ, commented that “While cannabis becomes legal in most of the country to grow and sell, it is unfair to keep our brothers and sisters in cages who risked their freedom to provide medicine to their communities before it was legal. It is past time that we actually right the wrongs of the failed War on Drugs.”
M1 And Cannabis Leaders Speak On White House Rally
In addition to hip hop artists M1 and Redman, movement leaders who will be onsite for Monday’s D.C. rally include New Jersey entrepreneur Leo Bridgewater, Partner at Heart Community Capital; Jason Ortiz, Executive Director of SSDP; and cannabis pioneer Steve DeAngelo, founder of the nonprofit JUSTUS Foundation and co-founder of Last Prisoner Project. In a statement to High Times, DeAngelo promised to "hold the President's feet to the fire."
“If President Biden truly wants to repair the harms of our nation’s unjust policy of prohibition, this initial progress must be followed up with bolder action—action that would actually lead to freedom for cannabis prisoners,” noted Sarah Gersten, LPP's Executive Director and General Counsel.
Bridgewater commented on the planned demonstration: "There are two designations of people with whom the Cannabis community and the general population must contend with on every level of government: Jetsons or Flintstones. We know who they are based on the terminology they use when talking about Cannabis. The lack of situational awareness and the tone deafness historically exhibited by the current POTUS is a clear indicator [of] which of those designators applies to him. It also helps to explain the misinformed rationale behind the timing of his policy announcement and suggestion of rescheduling. In order for any politician to take seriously the will of the people, the people must pay them in the currency they accept. That currency is votes."
"Waiting a month before Election Day to say anything regarding Cannabis could have been a win of votes for the POTUS and his party had his policy been written by a Jetson," Bridgewater continued. "Whomever is advising the POTUS on Cannabis has failed him miserably; Monday's demonstration is an indictment on the administration and their lack of situational awareness regarding Cannabis. The Cannabis vote is real and politicians on every level of Government ought to take notice."
Richard DeLisi, who became known as the nation's longest-serving cannabis prisoner after being incarcerated for 32 years, will also be present at the rally. LPP worked closely with the DeLisi family to advocate for his freedom, which finally happened in December 2020 when he was given compassionate release due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, DeLisi and his family have developed the cannabis brand DeLisioso, and partnering with juggernaut multi-state operator Trulieve to launch their products in Florida.
M1 asserted: “I decided to participate in this action because of the inaction of this government to step on the right side of his/herstory. My cannabis community deserves freedom and justice. And with my cultural activist comrades, we will keep our finger on the pulse of the People. Free ‘em ALL!”
For more information on the rally happening in Washington, D.C. on Monday, October 24, 2022, visit ssdp.org.
Cover photo Redman, Richard Delisi and M1 of Dead Prez. (c) Sam C Long
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Featured image: Left to right: Redman, Richard DeLisi, and M1 of Dead Prez. (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture