Mission of Justice: The Weldon Project and Mission Green

The legalization of cannabis, though not perfect, has brought significant benefits to the diverse communities of people who enjoy the herb. Millions of people are relieved to know they won’t be trapped because they have a little bit of weed.

But our judicial system has not caught up with the reality of legalization. Some states have been aggressive in releasing or resentencing pot prisoners and clearing their records, while others have made redress from criminal records a chore. Mostly ignorant, it keeps people in jail for marijuana-related offenses, often for decades. But arrests and convictions are more than just crime statistics. They also represent real women and men, the up-and-coming music producers who worked with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur nearly 20 years ago when their lives were turned upside down by the war on drugs. People like Weldon Angelos.

In 2003, Angelos, a 24-year-old father of two, was sent to prison for 55 years for selling less than $1,000 worth of marijuana to an informant. Unsettled by the sentence the country’s drug laws forced him to impose on this young nonviolent criminal, the federal judge in his case, Paul Cassell, eventually left the bench for wrongdoing. Despite his harsh reputation for his crimes, he also publicly pleaded for the release of Angelos. The case has become a symbol of the excesses of America’s criminal justice system, attracting the attention of a bipartisan group of lawmakers and celebrities including Snoop and Alicia Keys, all of whom disagreed. The call for a pardon was eventually heard and Angelos was released from prison in 2016 after spending 13 years in prison.In December 2020, then-President Donald Trump gave Angelos a full pardon. gave

mission green planting

After his release from prison, Angelos became an advocate for those still in prison due to the excesses of the federal justice system, including mandatory minimum sentences and Section 924(c) of the Federal Code. The sentence was served because a police informant testified that Angelos had a gun strapped to his ankle when the marijuana trade took place, but there was no evidence he used or brandished a gun. There was no

In 2018, thanks to the efforts of reform advocates, including Angelos, the First Steps Act was passed. This provides a path to the early release federal prisoners deserve. According to the Justice Department, the year after the bill passed, he had more than 3,000 inmates eligible for early release, and that number will rise to more than 7,500 by July 2022. did.

In a virtual interview, Angelos characterized the First Step Act as “probably the most comprehensive reform since 1970.” With passage of the bill secured, Angelos decided to turn his attention to people like him who were imprisoned for weed. Founded the Weldon Project, an organization that provides financial assistance to people in prison. Enlisting the support of a broad coalition of lawmakers, entertainers and thought leaders, the Weldon Project launched Mission Green, the group’s first initiative to address the harm of cannabis prohibition.

“We decided to form the Weldon Project and our first initiative was Project Mission Green to work with the White House on the issue of cannabis amnesty. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t stolen,” Angelos recalls. “That’s why we worked together during the last few years of the Trump administration to get many individuals who were serving life sentences for cannabis pardons, and others who were serving long sentences. .”

While his term as president was nearing its end, Trump pardoned 74 people and commuted the sentences of 70 people, including many convicted of cannabis crimes. The Weldon Project remained active until the next administration, calling on President Joseph Biden to honor his campaign promise to end incarceration for marijuana crimes. Last year, the Weldon Project sent out a letter signed by more than 150 artists, athletes, lawmakers, reform advocates, policy experts, business, law enforcement and academic leaders calling for a pardon for cannabis prisoners. The letter asks the President to exercise his authority to “grant full, complete, and unconditional amnesty to all persons subject to federal criminal or civil enforcement on the basis of nonviolent marijuana offenses.” I’m looking for

“The Mission Green initiative is really focused on freeing those trapped in the federal prison system for cannabis crime through presidential pardons and compassionate releases,” Angelos explained. increase.

The group also has a program to help cannabis prisoners while they’re still in prison, and an initiative to help families waiting for them to come home.

“A concession stand that helps support individuals serving long prison terms for cannabis so they can get basic necessities that prisons don’t provide, such as hygiene products, family communication, and food. We started working on the program,” says Angelos. “That was the inspiration behind Mission Green, which we launched in 2018.”

“We are also starting to provide support to the families of those incarcerated, as children suffer when the breadwinner is sent to prison,” he adds. “So we want to start supporting them.”

Much of the protest against the plight of cannabis prisoners centers on the dichotomy of the American legal system’s approach to cannabis. While many people see a dual reality in which men and women end up in jail for selling herbs, others, including multinational corporations, see billions of dollars worth of weed every year as a sheer rogue. Angelos agrees, adding that companies and individuals profiting from the regulated cannabis market have a responsibility to help those incarcerated for marijuana-related crimes.

“Anyone profiting from cannabis has an obligation to step up and do something against those who paved the way for legalization,” he stresses. , which I call a horror story, helped push the needle in favor of reform.”

Kyle Kazan and Weldon Angelos / Courtesy of Mission Green

Many cannabis industry business owners and executives accept that responsibility. Some of the industry’s most recognizable brands have signed on as sponsors, including Cookies, Cresco Labs and Flower One.support from glass house It came in the form of a donation of $25,000 and service to the organization’s board of directors by Kyle Kazan, the company’s CEO in California. Glass House president Graham Farrar also believes the regulated industry has an obligation to help.

“I think we have an obligation as an industry, as a company, to connect the flywheels of success to stop the wrongs of the war on drugs and try to fix some of the wrongs of the past,” he tells me.

Farrar adds that the war on drugs has not only failed to achieve its goals, but has also destroyed or disrupted countless lives.

“The war on drugs is bullshit,” he says bitterly. “Every day more and more people realize it. We realize it was never a war on drugs. It was a war on the people.”

Wilfred Maina, account coordinator at NisonCo, a cannabis-centric public relations firm, said not only companies that actually sell cannabis, but all companies working in the regulated cannabis industry have been sent to jail for cannabis crime. We believe we have a responsibility to help people. .

“It is totally unfair to profit economically from an industry that puts people in jail in some cases and places and in others. The private and non-profit sectors must work together to correct this wrong until all those imprisoned in . high times“Auxiliary cannabis companies, like those that touch the plant, benefit directly from traditional knowledge and hard-working advocacy. Without an illegal market, there is no legitimate market.”

The Weldon Project and Mission Green have brought together a broad coalition of lawmakers, entertainers, athletes, reform advocates and business leaders to successfully address the injustice of harsh prison sentences for marijuana crime. But achieving the ultimate goal of liberating these men and women also requires the support of everyday people, especially those in the cannabis community who reap the fruits of their labor and sacrifice. You are most welcome, but people also have the power to act.

“They can be against it,” says Angelos, encouraging everyone to participate. Or you can reach out to your members of Congress and demand change, or reach out to your president and demand that they intervene with those who sit in prison to this day.”

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