Updated: Feb 24
With the results of the 2020 election clearly showing that the United States is moving away from the criminalization of cannabis--on both sides of the bipartisan political divide--one organization that has been at the forefront of cannabis criminal justice reform is the Last Prisoner Project (LPP). Since its inception in 2019, the LPP has been fighting not only for the continued process of legalizing cannabis throughout the nation, but also for a day when the last prisoner unjustly incarcerated for non-violent cannabis-related "offenses" is free and successfully integrated back into society.
The Last Prisoner Project was founded by brothers Steve and Andrew DeAngelo, who together in 2006, opened one of the first legal cannabis dispensaries in the United States. Steve became known as the "Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry" and Harborside became known as a positive and beneficial addition to the city of Oakland, California. "We were donating money to the community," Andrew has said, "and we also had a program where we gave people free weed for writing letters to cannabis prisoners."
The DeAngelo brothers knew that they had to do more, though. They founded the Last Prisoner Project "out of the belief that if anyone is able to profit and build wealth in the legal cannabis industry, those individuals must also work to release and rebuild the lives of those who have suffered from cannabis criminalization." To do this, they focus on three key initiatives.
First, of course, is prisoner release; but with the stigma that surrounds incarceration in our society, that's only the beginning of true freedom. The second crucial initiative is record relief, which means pardons and clean slate initiatives for all those convicted of offenses that are no longer considered criminal. Finally, it is imperative to create a stable re-entry into society for former prisoners, which the LPP works toward through scholarship programs and employment mentorship.
The Last Prisoner Project is made up of a large team of not only leaders in the cannabis industry, but also criminal and social justice advocates, policy and education experts, and advisors of all sorts that include famous faces like actor Jim Belushi, and musicians Melissa Etheridge and Damian and Stephen Marley. In addition to those more directly involved in the cannabis industry, the LPP also has a number of celebrity ambassadors, from comedian Doug Benson to television personalities like Montell Williams and Bill Maher, as well as athletes like Anna Symonds and Ricky WIlliams. Celebrities--they're just like us! They too believe that no one should be imprisoned for cannabis.
Today, the letter writing program that started it all continues, and the Last Prisoner Project has partnered with numerous organizations in the cannabis community, including Leafly, Grav, Ascend Wellness, and Green Thumb Industries, to name a few. They also have a nationwide campaign for donations at cannabis dispensaries, through their Roll It Up for Justice program, with participating dispensaries in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.
These and other businesses and individuals agree that anyone who is fortunate enough to profit from the cannabis industry, or even to enjoy the benefits of its continuing legalization, "has a moral obligation to give back to those still suffering due to the devastating effects of prohibition." It's an important mission statement, and one with the power of an idea whose time has come. The LPP is leading the way to a brighter future for the wrongly convicted, and for the cannabis industry as a whole.