People remain behind bars for cannabis-related convictions despite the abundance of legalization and decriminalization measures that roll out in the U.S. Rather than be apathetic about cannabis prisoners, it’s time to do something about it.
Keep Austin Weed is partnering with cannabis criminal justice reform nonprofit Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and pioneering hip-hop group dead prez. LPP focuses on three key criminal justice reform initiatives: prisoner release, cannabis record clearance, and reentry support.
Dead prez will be performing at a benefit concert for LPP on March 13 from 6-10 p.m. at the Far Out Lounge & Stage during the South by Southwest (SXSW) tech, film, music, education, and culture festival in Austin, Texas. The Far Out Lounge & Stage provides more information about the event Let’s Get Free on the website.
The event marks the appointment of Mutulu Olugbala, aka M-1, of dead prez, to LPP’s Board of Directors. He’ll be joining cannabis industry leaders, executives, and activists who are committed to supporting LPP’s mission to free cannabis prisoners who still remain behind bars.
There will be a performance by dead prez along with special guests, including Blindspotting creators Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs (Hamilton), both of whom appear in the original 2018 film.
According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer, state and local law enforcement agencies reported 170,856 arrests for cannabis possession in 2021, slightly down from over 226,000 in 2020. And Texas was home to the highest number of arrests, with over 60,000 arrests.
Despite all of the decriminalization measures, including Texas’s city-level decriminalization measures, the arrests continue, and people remain behind bars for outdated laws. LPP estimates at least 40,000 remain incarcerated in the U.S. for crimes involving cannabis.
“Indeed this is fundamentally wrong,” M-1 tells High Times. “It’s plain to see that the U.S. agenda of mass incarceration is still their priority. This is glaring due to the changed public perception and recent decriminalization of cannabis. These contradictions expose the depth of injustice in this country as the undeniable power of plant medicine continues to grow.”
The mixed messages we get from the government aren’t going to work.
That’s one of the reasons M-1 agreed to join Last Prisoner Project’s Board of Directors.
“The Last Prisoner Project has done tremendous work fighting for the justice and freedom of cannabis prisoners which completely aligns with work I have been doing as a revolutionary cultural worker. I’m excited to be seated on this board and bring my years of experience and resources to this mission,” M-1 says. “LPP is the counterbalance to a growing cannabis industry which should be celebrating this legacy and people who paid the price to push our culture forward.”
Get Political with dead prez
Check out LPP’s latest Pardons To Progress campaign that puts pressure on local governors to use their clemency power to release those incarcerated for cannabis offenses on the state level if you want to get involved, M-1 says.
If you’ve been listening to dead prez for the past two decades, the group has adopted a strong political tone since day one.
“Since everything is political in my opinion, we have to hold this government and present administration to their promise to release cannabis prisoners,” M-1 says. “It’s imperative that we engage in this fight in every circle we may find ourselves in as most of us have been affected by the unfair imprisonment of so many of our family and community. I have been fortunate to use music and culture and tools to spread our word and raise our platforms.”
Let’s Get Free Concert hosted by Keep Austin Weed takes place in Austin where voters decriminalized cannabis, along with a handful of other cities in Texas. The next step is anyone’s best guess.
“Abolishing prohibition in Texas (and nationally) would be a tremendous victory for our populace. The economic benefit alone would literally be reparations to all of us who have been impacted negatively by this outdated legal system,” M-1 says. “Dead prez will be shouting this message from the stage along with some special guests at the Far Out Lounge in Austin. With a global spotlight on Texas during that time, LPP will have a great opportunity to gain more support.”
Richard DeLisi served 32 years of a 99-year sentence for a nonviolent crime. He was released from prison on Dec. 8, 2020. But during his time in prison, DeLisi’s wife and other family members passed away. His daughter was paralyzed, and he missed many memories. At age 71, he was released from prison in Florida, making him the longest-serving, nonviolent cannabis prisoner in the U.S. People like DeLisi deserve to have an early hand in legal cannabis, probably more than anyone.
“First of all—free all cannabis prisoners!” M-1 says. “Welcome home to Mr. DeLisi and I’m so happy to be sharing a space with him to call for more people like him to get what they deserve… Justice!! The Legacy Operators should be the fashioners of what the transition to legal cannabis should look like in order to avoid the bureaucracy that has happened in other states that are attempting to build competent weed policies. Richard DeLisi has a legal cannabis brand named DeLisioso and they are actually the presenting sponsor of the concert.”
Police brutality and general overreach continues to overlap with outdated cannabis laws. In Denton, Texas, for instance, cannabis was decriminalized, but city management and police chose to arrest people anyways.
“I have endured the traumatic experience of law enforcement harassment many times,” M-1 says. “Part of what must be done is to deal with mental health challenges that have arisen around our colonial relationship to the police. I represent a generation of people who have been persecuted for recognizing cannabis as a wellness.”
Join dead prez March 13 at the Far Out Lounge & Stage during SXSW in Austin.
“We will right these wrongs, M-1 says. “Free ‘em All!!