Why It’s Time to End CannabisRelated Incarceration The “Green Rush” has left tens of thousands still behind bars. It’s time to release our country’s cannabis prisoners, clear their records, and help them rebuild their lives.
he United States is at a crossroads when it comes to cannabis. Legalization is fast becoming the law of the land, and there’s a lot of money being made in the sector. But while many are minting millions of dollars off of marijuana, tens of thousands languish behind bars for doing the exact same thing (if on a smaller scale). For decades, the prejudicial penal codes and discriminatory policing prac-
tices propping up American marijuana prohibition have destroyed millions of lives, devastated countless communities, and exacerbated the gross inequities in American society. In fact, in 2018 — the same year multiple multi-state operators went public — U.S. law enforcement agencies made more than 630,000 cannabis arrests. For context, that represents more arrests for marijuana than for rape, murder, aggravated assault, and armed robbery combined.
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Unyielding crusade I know the devastation caused by marijuana prohibition can’t be measured by statistics alone. After all, at the same time cannabis industry CEOs are gracing the pages of the New York Times and other major publications, the Last Prisoner Project — the criminal justice reform nonprofıt I run — represents people who are currently serving life sentences (without the possibility of parole) for nonviolent cannabis offenses.
The stories of our constituents are visceral reminders of the staggeringly high costs of this unjust and unyielding crusade. This is why I, alongside the Last Prisoner Project team and partners, have dedicated ourselves to securing the freedom of the tens of thousands of people still incarcerated for cannabis around the country. Our mission is simple, even if the legal mechanisms (clemency, compassionate release, resentencing, record-clearing, etc.) we use to
accomplish it seem complicated. Release our country’s cannabis prisoners, clear their records, and help them rebuild their lives. To learn more about how we’re working to end the injustice that is cannabis-related incarceration, please visit www.lastprisonerproject.org..
Sarah Gersten, Executive Director and General Counsel, Last Prisoner Project