Executive Director Sarah Gersten believes that the work of Last Prisoner Project is particularly timely, given the shifting societal attitudes surrounding cannabis use. LPP, a national, nonpartisan, not-for-profit aims to change America’s policy of cannabis criminalization.
“After all, not only do the vast majority of Americans support an end to marijuana prohibition,” Gersten says, “dozens of states have passed laws legalizing cannabis sales. We can no longer continue to accept a status quo that sees some people make millions of dollars selling marijuana at the exact same time others are arrested and incarcerated for doing the thing.”
Members of the Seattle community have shown great support for the work of LPP, including Uncle Ike’s, which has cannabis dispensary locations throughout the region and first got involved in December 2020.
“We embrace this responsibility and are committed to doing our part and that is why we chose to partner with the Last Prisoner Project through our Purchase with Purpose program,” says Josie Waddington, media manager at Uncle Ike’s. As member of the Roll It Up For Justice Program, Uncle Ike’s donates 5% of profits to LPP and matches every dollar donated by customers; so far this year, their efforts have raised more than $50,000, Waddington says.
LPP tackles three pillars of cannabis criminal justice reform: prisoner release, record clearing through clean slate initiatives, and re-entry programs.
“A core focus of our criminal justice work is focused on ensuring the expedited release of the tens of thousands of people currently incarcerated in local jails and state and federal prisons for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses,” Gersten says. This is accomplished through their pro bono legal services. “These efforts include our state and federal cannabis clemency programs (i.e. the Cannabis Justice Initiative — a partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers), compassionate release efforts and other legal interventions made on behalf of individuals currently incarcerated for cannabis,” she says.
Record relief includes clean slate initiatives and record-clearing procedures, among other items. “A criminal record can be a significant barrier to employment, housing, familial reunification, educational opportunities, civic privileges, public benefits and more,” Gersten says. “This is why we work to advance (and ensure the proper and complete implementation of) record relief-focused legislation … which often take the form of clean slate initiatives and automated expungement processes.”
On this front, LPP works with local, state and federal authorities to draft, pass and implement automated expungement and sealing procedures for individuals saddled with nonviolent, cannabis-related criminal records. These measures ensure that these records — which can include both conviction and nonconviction records — are either deleted or otherwise shielded from public view. This means the holder(s) of such records can lawfully treat the cannabis-related arrest, trial and conviction as though they never happened.
“The re-entry programs work to reduce recidivism rates by providing the tools and support our constituents’ need to properly reintegrate with the broader society post-incarceration,” Gersten says. This includes financial support for items like housing, transportation and medical needs, professional skills and employment training, and/or financial wellness counseling.
“Uncle Ike’s is aware of fundamental injustice for those who have suffered from criminal cannabis convictions and understands that there is a huge racial disparity when it comes to those convictions,” Waddington says. “Ike’s believes that if anyone is able to profit and build wealth in the legal cannabis industry, they must also work to release and rebuild the lives of those who have suffered from cannabis criminalization.”
“Beyond donations, they’ve also been incredible about helping to raise awareness around the injustice that is cannabis-related incarceration,” Gersten says. “Their team has Roll It Up displays in five Seattle-area dispensaries, oftentimes brings LPP materials to events, and we’re constantly working with their leadership team to collaborate on new and innovative ways to educate their employees (as well as the general public) about the issue.” Their staff also participates in LPP’s Letter Writing Program.
Uncle Ike’s partners with organizations whose missions align with our desire to support equity in our communities. Partnering with Last Prisoner Project, we match every dollar donated into our donation boxes, plus 5% of profits, up to $10,000 per month.