Until Every Prisoner Is Free

Prohibition’s Impact & Real Voices from Last Prisoner Project

At Trulieve, we believe in establishing partnerships with organizations that build stronger communities, improve lives, and work towards meaningful change – like Last Prisoner Project (LPP). LPP was formed by a coalition of cannabis industry leaders, executives, and artists dedicated to restorative justice through intervention, advocacy, and awareness campaigns.

With medical or adult-use legalization a reality in more than half of U.S. states, it can be easy to forget that prohibition still affects millions of people who are incarcerated or have criminal records tied to cannabis. They, as well as their loved ones, suffer unjustly from the personal, social, financial, and potentially generational impacts of incarceration through a system of enforcement that has disproportionately affected low-income communities and people of color. Individuals with criminal records often experience collateral consequences that impact their lives for years after sentences have been served – like reduced access to housing, employment, education, and public assistance, and the inability to vote. For many, a conviction for even a low-level drug offense can be disastrous to livelihood and opportunity.

For Stephanie Shepard, a first-time, non-violent offender, a conviction of conspiracy to distribute marijuana in the state of New York in 2010 resulted in a ten-year sentence to the federal prison system. After serving nine years, she was released and placed on probation for an additional five. Stephanie now serves as LPP’s Partnership Manager and sits on the organization's Board of Directors. In her role, she adamantly advocates daily for restorative justice for those who have suffered and continue to suffer as she has from the criminalization of cannabis.

“When I got home, I realized I was free of that circumstance, but I had a whole new set of obstacles that I had to overcome,” says Stephanie, “And that’s where LPP comes in.” Their programming revolves around release and legal programs, constituent support, reentry services, and policy change. LPP reports an estimated 40,000 Americans remain incarcerated for cannabis-related convictions. The ACLU estimates that 8.2 million cannabis-related arrests were made in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010 alone, 88% of which were for simple possession. That’s not even accounting for the millions charged in the decades prior and in the decade since, while the legal cannabis industry in the U.S. is estimated to reach over $31.8 billion annual sales by the end of 2023.

“Being inside as state after state legalized, that's where it first started to really hit me,” Stephanie recalls. “Seeing the industry grow on TV and on news reports, I thought, wait a minute, is this a war on the plant? Or is it a war on people? Because if it was a war on the plant, there would be no dispensaries. The same thing they are delivering to your door is the same thing that some people are serving life in prison for. And I started to get angry, and I started to get motivated to join this cause.”

While countless lives and families were disrupted by the plant’s criminalization, the legal industry now finds itself uniquely positioned to heal the wounds of the past. Efforts to provide resources that promote opportunities for employment, ownership, and greater restorative justice while fighting for change in more than a dozen states and at the federal level have never been more pressing.

“I do feel that as an industry, we have a responsibility to give back because it looks very different today than it did. But we still see people serving long sentences for cannabis, so there has to be some recognition of that,” says Stephanie. “I'm happy the industry is moving in the direction it is, but it's also scary, because the more normalized cannabis becomes and the more there are beautiful dispensaries where people can go in, pick up, leave and smoke – people are forgetting. I meet cannabis patients and users every day who don't even realize how many people are in prison for it.”

The entire cannabis community owes a debt to who were arrested, prosecuted, or otherwise impacted, as well as those who have worked tirelessly for reform. And this time of year especially, it’s fitting to reflect on, recognize, uplift, and support the victims of cannabis prohibition and the advocates who dedicate themselves to securing a freer future.

“I don't speak for myself,” Stephanie says. “I really don't, because I can't change what happened. I can't go back in time. I can't get my father back that I lost while I was incarcerated. But I can make change moving forward and try to make it so no one else has to go through what I went through. My voice is not my voice. I use my voice to be a voice for the people.”

Trulieve is proud to have partnered with the Last Prisoner Project since 2020 to take steps toward expanding legal intervention, public education, and legislative advocacy. Together, we held expungement clinics to help applicants have their records expunged or sealed and facilitated letterwriting drives for incarcerated prisoners to provide hope to those in a dark place. To date, Trulieve has also donated more than $75,000 in proceeds to LPP through unique cause-related fundraising campaigns, register rollups, company giveback initiatives, and a Trulieve-exclusive NFT digital art collection offering. With all the work left to do, we’re all-in to advance their support for those who have suffered from cannabis convictions, and are hopeful that the legal industry brings a massive opportunity for awareness and change.

“While you're participating in 420, think about the people who are serving sentences because of the very plant. And if you're going to spark up,” says Stephanie, “Then I suggest before you do that, do an actionable item to support LPP. Make that part of your celebration. Celebrate making a change in someone’s life. I think that should be a part of everyone’s 420.”

This month, Trulieve is fundraising in stores across the country in honor of 420. For more information on efforts and to learn how to get involved, visit lastprisonerproject.org, follow @lastprisonerproject, or text FREEDOM to 24365 to donate.