The Advocacy Landscape with Last Prisoner Project

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In the fourth episode of The Growth Chamber, a cannabis podcast series recorded at SXSW’s Cannabis Industry Evolution Summit, Mary Bailey, Managing Director of the Last Prisoner Project joins Cannabis, Beverages, & Tobacco Analyst Vivien Azer. They discuss LPP’s mission, success stories, and the unique ways the nonprofit partners with a variety of industry stakeholders. Press play to listen to the podcast.

Transcript

Mary Bailey:

Collateral consequences is the term that we use when one person goes to prison it’s basically like the whole family goes to prison in one way or another.

Vivien Azer:

Hi, this is Vivien Azer, Cowen’s Beverages, Tobacco and Cannabis Analyst. I’m delighted to be joined by Mary Bailey, Interim Executive Director of the Last Prisoner Project. Hey Mary.

Mary Bailey:

Thank you so much for having me Vivian.

Vivien Azer:

So good to see you at South by Southwest.

Mary Bailey:

Yes, nice live and in person.

Vivien Azer:

Absolutely. Absolutely. You guys had a great event on Sunday featuring a lot of really good advocacy touch points and a lot of great people. It was nice to see so many people in the cannabis community coming together.

Mary Bailey:

For me, it was so nice to get to see so many of our partners that we’ve been doing video calls for years through a pandemic, and finally getting together and connecting in real life is such a treat.

Vivien Azer:

Absolutely. For those in our audience who aren’t familiar with LPP, tell us a little bit about the background of the organization and how you got involved.

Mary Bailey:

Absolutely. So in a nutshell, we are a criminal justice reform nonprofit dedicated to releasing cannabis prisoners and helping them rebuild their lives post-incarceration.

Vivien Azer:

Absolutely. And it really is a multi-pronged endeavor that you guys have in terms of the program. So can we talk a little bit about each of them?

Mary Bailey:

Yes, absolutely. So of course we focus on release efforts. We have a really solid partnership with National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers. I call them our army of attorneys. Basically they’re pro bono attorneys based all around the country. We work with them to match pro bono attorneys with cannabis prisoners to help them file for compassionate release and their clemency petition. So, that’s more of the release side. We also realize we can’t just help people regain their freedom and expect their lives to go back to normal. It just doesn’t work like that with felonies on your record here in America, recidivism rates are very, very high. So in order to help set up our constituents for success, we have created reentry resources in our reentry program. So basically it’s a grant system. So if anybody has been formally incarcerated for cannabis, then they’re eligible for our grants

Vivien Azer:

And cannabis incarceration doesn’t just impact the person who’s going to prison. Talk a little bit about the family resources that you offer.

Mary Bailey:

Absolutely. Collateral consequences is the term that we use. When one person goes to prison, it’s basically like the whole family goes to prison in one way or another. And it is that ripple effect of trauma. Most of the constituents that I work with, most of them are parents. Most of them have multiple children. And so now those kids are living in single parent households. Finances are very tight. A lot of the prisoners are actually… If it’s a federal case, most of them are transported to other states. So they’re very far away from their family members and it makes it really, really difficult for them to stay in touch. But one beautiful thing that I do see is a lot of our constituents have been able to keep a very tight bond with their family members. They talk on the phone a lot, but it’s really expensive.

Mary Bailey:

It’s incredibly expensive to be incarcerated. I had no idea before I started doing this work that one of the families I work with, they said that they spend upwards of $80 a week on phone calls alone. It’s very pricey. So, that is another service that we do. So we don’t only have grants for people who are released, we also have funding under the commissary accounts of currently incarcerated prisoners. And of course I mentioned their children. We have a family support fund. And so those grants are for the children and their caretakers of folks who have family members who are still incarcerated.

Vivien Azer:

So many important initiatives, cause there’s so much to be done on the issue. At Cowen, we are very happy to be corporate sponsors of LPP. We are so committed to your mission and your vision and all that you guys have accomplished. I know when I talk to other CEOs in the cannabis industry, companies I cover, companies I don’t, you do have a lot of partners amongst the MSOs and wellness I think stands out. Talk to us a little bit about what you’re doing with Ascend.

Mary Bailey:

Ascend has gone above and beyond to support the work that we do, in so many different ways. One of the ways is they support our Roll It Up For Justice program. That is a program where customers and dispensaries can donate to Last Prisoner Project at checkout. Not only are we in every dispensary that Ascend has, but they match all the donations. It has been incredible. Over the past year it brought in approximately $1.1 million in donations of matching, so approximately $500,000 from their customers and they matched that amount. As well as the Roll It Up For Justice support, they are also… we’ve been working really, very exciting to work with their team. They are also a reentry partner. So we are working together to develop a ready to hire job program with them as well.

Vivien Azer:

I mean, so awesome to empower consumers, to be conscious consumers, and provide that extra opportunity to buy and enjoy your cannabis, but also to do good. That’s critical. And we’ve heard that theme a lot, consumer consciousness and at South by Southwest. So, that’s very much aligned with that. You also have a partnership with Dutchie.

Mary Bailey:

Dutchie, absolutely. They recently came on board as a champion level sponsor of Last Prisoner Project. And back to that Roll It Up For Justice program, they have pledged to donate up to a million dollars in matching from customers that donate. Another really important thing to focus on when it comes to the Roll It Up For Justice program is it’s not just donations that come in. Just the fact that customers encounter Last Prisoner Project at checkout, whether they donate or not, it creates awareness for them of, “Wow, I’m in this beautiful store purchasing legal cannabis, but yet I’m reminded that there are people incarcerated for cannabis right now”. And so it really just brings it to people’s mind of really putting things into perspective. So the awareness that it creates is even more so than the funding.

Vivien Azer:

Absolutely. Speaking of awareness, there was multiple screenings of a film that Cresco helped finance the production of for one of LPP’s success stories. Can we talk about Michael?

Mary Bailey:

Yes, absolutely. So Cresco Labs worked closely with filmmaker, Kyle Thrash, who created a mini documentary about Michael Thompson. Michael Thompson, first of all, is an incredible human. Before he was incarcerated for cannabis, he actually won a humanitarian award from the NAACP. He received the keys to the city of Flint, Michigan, where he is from. He did a ton of work with troubled youth in his area. And eventually in 1995, he received an egregious charge of 40 to 60 years in prison for a cannabis charge,. Only three pounds of cannabis. They did stack his charges when, after the sale of the cannabis to a police informant, they went to his home and they did find guns and a locked cabinet because of a prior felony that he had, those guns were illegally owned and they basically charged him like he had used guns in the sale of cannabis, which he had not.

Mary Bailey:

So that’s why the sentence was quite so high. Michael was in prison for 25 years for that sentence. Last Prisoner Project, we worked so hard. It was about a year and a half campaign. We worked closely with his attorney and then all of, so many of our celebrity ambassadors to really amplify his story. The activist, Shaun King played a monumental role in just creating more awareness with the millions of followers. And this is where social media just really comes through. We had over 200,000 people call and write Governor Whitmer’s office requesting for an executive commutation. And then finally he got that executive commutation.

Mary Bailey:

I will never forget the day we got the call. And so he has now been free for 14 months. This mini documentary just launched at Santa Barbara International Film Festival, South by Southwest two days ago. For me as an advocate for Michael and working on his release campaign for so long, this is so surreal to… Getting to spend time with him and present and real life. We got to know each other over that year and a half through 10 minute phone calls, prison phone calls. And so just seeing him thriving and he actually does work for Cresco. So he is an ambassador of Cresco. He also works for, as an ambassador for a company, a local Michigan company called UBaked. And just knowing that the cannabis companies are showing up and offering support for him in these golden years of his life is just a really beautiful thing to witness.

Vivien Azer:

Aw, yeah. That’s so encouraging to hear, but so many more candidates for success stories. There’s a lot of work to do.

Mary Bailey:

Yes. There’s tens of thousands of cannabis prisoners across the country, both at the state level and the federal level. We’ve got our work cut out for us. So we’re just going to keep at it. And again, we just really appreciate the cannabis companies who do step up and help us support the work. Funding is the lifeblood of any nonprofit and we have, are working very diligently on policy efforts, state level policy efforts, as well as federal as well. So we’ll keep doing the work until every last cannabis prisoner is free.

Vivien Azer:

Oh, that’s great to hear one last question before we wrap up. Any impressions from South by Southwest?

Mary Bailey:

Ugh. I love South by Southwest. I am a little bit of a nerd. I love learning and I love socializing. So conferences in general, putting them together, it’s just so exciting. But South by, I mean goes above and beyond. It’s just great minds. And again, getting to connect with people in real life, in real time, South by is just next level. I’ve just really loved it. The Legacy to Legal panel yesterday was really fascinating. Caught some and… I actually visited the Meow Wolf art exhibit as well. So if you get a chance, check that one out as well.

Vivien Azer:

I will. Mary Bailey from the Last Prisoner Project. Thank you so much. I’m Vivien Azer, Cowens Cannabis, Tobacco and Beverages Analyst.

Speaker 3:

Thanks for joining us. Stay tuned for the next episode of Cowen Insights.


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