2020 prompted soul searching in industries throughout the US, but the cannabis industry had some particularly deep thinking to do on the subject of social justice and equity. One thing became clear: As corporations grow and investors clamor for ROI, there is a risk of losing the collective soul of the movement to overturn the injustices of the past. There is a clear need to prioritize the long term investment opportunity of building an industry on the unified ground of social equity over the short term focal point of profit regardless of costs.
When it comes to social justice, more companies are putting their money where their mouth is. Last year, Michigan’s Redemption Cannabis and Driven Grow worked with Last Prisoner Project to launch the Michigan Cannabis Prisoner Release Campaign. Other Michigan cannabis companies jumped on board. “When we caught wind of this initiative, I knew O2VAPE had to be a part of it,” says CEO Dana E. Shoched.
Redemption Cannabis offers a line of cannabis products that contribute 10 percent of all proceeds toward rebuilding the lives that have been devastated by unjust marijuana laws. Such efforts, combined with contributions from O2VAPE and other local companies, raised over $30,000 to help secure the successful release of Michael Thompson at 4am on January 28, 2021.
Thompson was incarcerated in 1996 after being arrested for selling cannabis to an undercover officer. He served 25 years of what was effectively a life sentence for a nonviolent crime. After years of work and thousands of letters, Thompson was finally granted clemency by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. This is a vital reprieve for the 69-year-old man, who would not have otherwise been eligible for parole until 2038. “I’m happy that I’m free,” Thompson said, “But there’s so much work to be done with prison reform.”
For many consumers, the decision to purchase from community-minded companies like O2VAPE and Redemption Cannabis is obvious, but the societal impact of these decisions may be bigger than consumers realize.
“As someone who’s built a well-established vaping company from scratch after starting out in my own little garage in Michigan, I feel I have a responsibility to do what I can to empty Michigan’s prisons of nonviolent cannabis offenders like Michael,” said Shoched of O2VAPE. “I know many of us faced struggles to make ends meet during the pandemic, and constantly putting out fires to ensure a stable supply chain might put the fight for restorative justice on the back burner for a while, but I also know building a strong business within an equitable industry requires each of us to show up and do the work; the choice to support similar initiatives is a social imperative.”
Steve DeAngelo, the founder of Last Prisoner Project and a leading advocate for those incarcerated by unjust and uneducated cannabis policies, urges other businesses to align with the program’s mission. “We are fighting more than a century of misinformation and stealing people’s lives who should be free. The world of cannabis is an ecosystem through which we are all connected and companies that understand that on the local level will ensure that the industry continues to grow in a way that truly benefits people at every level, and acknowledges the sacrifice of those who have allowed this industry to grow,” said DeAngelo.