150 influencers and advocates have delivered an urgent call to release and forgive all nonviolent prisoners of the War on Cannabis
Last week (Sept 14.), cannabis reform advocacy group, The Weldon Project followed up on a March letter signed by over 150 influencers, politicians, and experts urging President Biden to deliver on his promise to pardon all non-violent cannabis offenders.
Via virtual conference, The Weldon Project and multi-state operators Glass House Brands and Viola repeated the letter’s request for the immediate use of presidential power to grant mass clemency and implement record expungement on a federal scale.
The live stream conference included passionate statements from representative Barbara Lee (CA-D), currently incarcerated rapper Ralo, and police officer turned cannabis CEO Kyle Kazan of Glass House Brands, all of whom urged President Biden to take this first step in ending the War on Drugs and correcting its many injustices.
The project began earlier in the year with a letter initiative featuring the signatures of artists like Drake, Lil Baby, Killer Mike, 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, and Baby Bash, athletes like Al Harrington, John Wall, Deion Sanders, Kevin Garnett, and Julio Jones, political figures like Kansas U.S. District Attorney Barry Grissom, Indiana state senator Eddie Melton (D-IN), and criminal justice activists Alice Johnson and Weldon Angelos.
The Weldon Project and Mission Green initiative
The 2020 letter to Biden is part of The Weldon Project’s “Mission Green” initiative, which is dedicated to the release and expungement of anyone in prison for nonviolent cannabis offenses.
Founded by Salt Lake City native Weldon Angelos, The Weldon Project was created after Angelos’ 2016 release from a 2004 arrest for selling cannabis to an undercover officer. On last week’s live stream Angelos explained,
Angelos got out after a viral campaign led to his sentence being commuted by President Obama in 2016. In 2020, President Trump pardoned his felony charges, removing the often crippling burden that follows many incarcerated citizens after release.
Ralo speaks his truth
Angelos says he did not have trouble convincing mega stars like Drake and Lil Baby to lend their autographs to Mission Green thanks to the reach of fellow rapper Ralo. Ralo joined the livestream from the Clayton County Detention Center in Georgia, where he is serving an eight-year sentence for nonviolent cannabis charges.
Angelos explained, “I think they’re looking at (Ralo), while Drake is in the marijuana industry making money, (and Drake) doesn’t understand why his friend has to go to prison for eight years.”
Mission Green says that both immediate release (clemency) and record expungement (pardon) are crucial steps toward helping anyone reintegrate into society
“I was a lucky one,” says Angelos, “because I had a lot of people pulling for me, and most people in prison don’t have the support that I had. When I got out, I committed to using that network and the support that helped get me out to get other people out.” If Biden does not grant mass pardons, individuals will be left to navigate the expungement process relying on their own dime and legal fluency.
“We all see the injustices within the marijuana industry. A lot of people (are) getting life sentences for something that they sell in the store. Joe Biden, we appreciate him acknowledging this fact (during his campaign), but we’re begging him to do something about it. We can cry about things, but we have to hold hands together and get things done.”
One of those individuals is Atlanta rapper Ralo, born Terrell Davis, whose promising career as a musician and entrepreneur was detoured by federal marijuana charges in 2018.
“I luckily got a blessing and got introduced to the brother Weldon,” explained Ralo via telephone during last week’s livestream. “He gave knowledge about how to get things resolved. He called to action, and with his wealth of knowledge and his ethics, I was able to partner up with him and grab people like Drake and Killer Mike and a lot of my associates and friends that I became close to within the music industry.”
The letter’s signers are confident that Angelos is the leader to push Mission Green to succeed, thanks to his vast network and wealth of experience fighting unjust cannabis laws at the state level.
Kazan calls Angelos “a bridge builder” because of his ability to get conservative political donor Charles Koch and Hip Hop legend Snoop Dogg on the same ZOOM call. “He’s one of those rare folks who can do that,” Kazan explains.
Rectifying harm with action
Glass House Brands kingpin Kyle Kazan believes it is his duty to throw his considerable influence behind the issue because of his participation in the War on Drugs as a police officer in the 90’s, as well as his current prosperity as the head honcho of Glass House brands.
“I’m the chairman, CEO, and co-founder of a publicly traded company. And this quarter we’re gonna close on 5.5 million sq. ft. of cultivation, on top of the 500,00 we already have — six million square feet. I’m gonna be the head of the largest cultivation facility on the planet,” Kazan said. “Meanwhile, Ralo is living a nightmare.”
“We have been fighting for decades to reverse outdated, discriminatory, and plainly racist federal marijuana policy. Marijuana has been racialized and stigmatized in this country for far too long. We have seen substantial progress towards cannabis justice in states across the country. It’s long overdue to take cannabis justice now to the federal level.”Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-D)
The retired cop continued, “it is my penance to speak out until this injustice is over… I was involved in the War on Drugs for five years back in the 90’s. I was out there hooking and booking, and after several years of playing the game I realized this is a really, really bad deal for everybody involved.”
Kazan says the President owes the same debt as him to the citizens who caught the bad end of his 1994 Crime Bill. “He is in the same position I am. He was part of that machine. Still part of it. The Crime Bill, where he was the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, we all know people, we have people in our families including me, that were addicts. He’s got the same issue… How can he turn his back?… It’s time. Every day is time.”
Will Biden come through on cannabis?
President Biden’s 2020 campaign website promised that “as president, he will decriminalize cannabis use and automatically expunge prior convictions,” and “reschedule cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts. But as we approach the midpoint of his first term, he is yet to make good on his statement that “no one should be in jail because of cannabis use.”
The politics surrounding the issue are not as cloudy as in past decades. The left’s passion for the social justice elements of legalization and the right’s interest in revenues and states’ rights make federal decriminalization a no-brainer on both sides of the aisle.
“I’m hoping real pressure gets put on those folks in Congress,” says Kazan, “perhaps as the midterms start coming around where they need some low-hanging fruit victories, and they push their President.”
But federal legalization is not nearly as urgent as federal forgiveness, according to the Glass House Brands CEO and his partners on Mission Green. “(Legalization) will come when it comes, I think the clemency, the pardon, (are) much more important than that.”
Angelos capped the meeting with a call for everyone in the cannabis industry, from providers to consumers, to do their part to demand action from the President.
“Those who are profiting off cannabis have an absolute duty to help those people who are still impacted,” Angelos said. “Whether they’re in prison or they’re out still suffering the consequences from a felony conviction.”
The Mission Green livestream event was moderated by Politico reporter Mona Zhang and can be streamed in full here