By Angela Romanos
It’s been quite a busy week for those in the cannabis industry, but as the path toward legalization continues to wind and social justice breaks from the margins, a busy week means progress . The Arcview Group Investors Forum just wrapped up, the Honey Pot– Honeysuckle’s first all-cannabis print magazine– just launched in stores, and the The Last Prisoner Project held its first ever New York City fundraiser. This initiative, the brain child of Steve DeAngelo and his brother/business partner Andrew DeAngelo, is a non-profit that seeks to provide relief and justice to those who have been unjustly incarcerated for selling or possessing cannabis.
A groundbreaking fundraiser, the event’s proceeds are dedicated to restorative justice endeavors for those who have been affected by our current era of cannabis prohibition in the United States. The innovative event was presented in partnership with hip-hop icon Fab 5 Freddy and award-winning brand Happy Munkey, whose team hosted a birthday celebration for Steve earlier this summer. Steve DeAngelo, commonly known as the Father of the Cannabis Industry, has had a long history with the fight for legalization, education, and reform. The Last Prisoner Project has set to work on some major tasks, including advocacy and intervention to address the unfairness between the people that are profiting off cannabis now and the people that were legally punished for it in the past– largely people of color. Sarah Gersten, Executive Director, and Mary Bailey, Managing Director of the Last Prisoner Project, are spearheading many programs that will bring great change to the industry and the lives of those incarcerated for cannabis.
Harvest Health and Recreation Inc., the third-largest U.S. cannabis operator, has entered a partnership with the Last Prisoner Project, funding its restorative justice initiative. It is important to note large corporations endorsing non-profits that strive to create a more equal opportunity. Steve White, the CEO of Harvest, has strong convictions concerning social equity and diversity, and this collaboration between the two giants is sure to spark social change. Hopefully, others in the cannabis industry can look toward these standout groups and follow their path toward equality.
The fundraiser for the Last Prisoner Project was filled to the brim by the cannabis community; there were veterans, such as the DeAngelo brothers themselves, as well as fresh faces. During Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of the same week, The Arcview Group Investors Forum was held, and many that were in attendance at the conference came to show support for the Last Prisoner Project. Also founded by the DeAngelo brothers, The Arcview Group is the most prominent cannabis investors group in the United States. Many of those who attended the Arcview conference were able to come to the after-hours fundraiser and connect with a network of like-minded advocates. Those who are thriving in the cannabis industry now should not lose sight of the bigger picture; although the cannabis industry is one of the fastest-growing markets and it holds possibilities of wealth, the system is not fair. Those who came into the market at the right time and place and who have the assets to start their own brands, are able to profit off the same plant that has stripped others of their freedom. In order to address this inequality, the investors from the Arcview Group who came to the Last Prisoner Project fundraiser are showing their support for a population that needs their assistance more than ever.
There fundraiser kicked off with several rousing speeches from the Last Prisoner Project’s amazing leaders. Sarah Gersten was sure to thank Happy Munkey for hosting and sponsoring the event. The founders of Happy Munkey actually have an ongoing partnership with Steve DeAngelo, as they work together on cannabis-centered events and projects. Gersten went on to detail the lovely paintings on display that evening, each one unique in style and color. They were not just decorations; Gersten told the story of a man who was incarcerated for life, and that his paintings were to be sold in a silent auction to raise money for the Last Prisoner Project. She told the stories of Evelyn Lachappelle and Corvain Cooper, who were victims of the system. Lachapelle had been arrested and served four years in jail for simply putting money from a cannabis sale in her bank account. Cooper, who was not as fortunate, is serving life in prison for an action that would be counted as no more than a misdemeanor. As legalization is approaching, many who were previously convicted are not receiving adequate–or any–retribution. Gersten emphasized that it was a mistake that there was no retroactive relief for the people who were in prison for alcohol offenses during prohibition in the 1920s. “Now we have an opportunity… when every state legalizes and federal government legalizes, we will ensure we have provisions for equitable industry, clemency for every cannabis prisoner…”
Throughout the night, there were other speakers seized the opportunity to touch the audience as well. Barbara Koz Paley, an Arcview board member and CEO of Art Assets gave a rousing speech on the importance of diversity and inclusion within the cannabis space. She emphasized the need to protect all people and not only those who have the money and assets to avoid criminal charges. Fab 5 Freddy spoke on the racist origins of prohibition and the relationship between jazz and cannabis. He shared clips from his acclaimed documentary film Grass is Greener, centered around cannabis and racial inequality in America. (It’s available now on Netflix.) Viewers also heard from George Martorano, who had been sentenced for life for drug possession and distribution. Martorano’s sentence was the longest prison sentence imposed on the first time, non-violent offender in American History (LPP). He urged the listeners to tell his story to at least two people that weren’t in the room, so that others may hear his story and recognize the injustices at hand. We are committed to spreading his word.
The work done by those at the Last Prisoner Project will improve lives, as their efforts change the diversity and community ties in the entire industry. The incarcerated communities that they are addressing need help and support from non-profits like LPP as the United States is approaching the cusp of legalization. This fresh market is attracting many new faces that wish to profit off of the plant in innovative ways, and while that should be encouraged, there is also a different responsibility that comes with working within the cannabis space. It is the civic duty of those with power in the cannabis industry to strive for inclusion, diversity, and restorative justice for those that have been punished severely for selling or possessing cannabis. As non-profits like the Last Prisoner Project move forward, our Honey Pot and Honeysuckle teams hope the rest of the world is watching.
For more information on the Last Prisoner Project, visit lastprisonerproject.org.
Angela Romanos is a staff editor for Honeysuckle Magazine. She is currently a second-year at New York University, pursuing her passions in sociology and economics. In her free time, Angela enjoys playing basketball, debating communism, and cooking vegetarian meals. You can follow her on Instagram at @AngelaRomanos.