Partnering To End Prohibition
With medical or adult-use legalization a reality in more than half of U.S. states, it can be easy to forget that Prohibition is still a scourge affecting millions of people who are incarcerated or have criminal records tied to simple possession charges. As the prospect of federal legalization looms large on Capitol Hill, it’s fitting to reflect on the victims of cannabis prohibition and the advocates who have invested sweat and tears into a freer future.
The entire cannabis community owes it to those who were persecuted for cannabis crimes and those who stood against the forces of prohibition. From those arrested for possession to those who worked tirelessly for reform, everyone who suffered under the criminalization of cannabis has contributed to the struggle to overturn cannabis prohibition -- a point in history that is hopefully on the horizon.
Learning the roots of Prohibition
￼￼￼￼On August 2, 1937, the U.S. signed into law the Marihuana Tax Act, a measure that effectively outlawed cannabis throughout the country. That law went into effect on October 1st of that same year. Pressure for just such a federal prohibition on cannabis had been building for more than two decades, as state after state issued their own prohibition legislation, starting with California in 1913.
￼￼The first person to be arrested under the new law was Moses Baca, who was charged on October 3, 1937, two days after the Marihuana Tax Act went into effect. Baca, who had a lengthy criminal history, was arrested in Denver on “drunk and disturbance” charges, during which police discovered a quarter ounce of cannabis. For that crime, Baca served 18 months in federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.
The next to be arrested was Samuel Caldwell, who was apprehended on October 5, two days after Baca. Caldwell, who also had a lengthy criminal history, was arrested with four pounds of cannabis, a product he began selling just a few months before the Marihuana Tax Act went into effect. Caldwell would also serve his time -- all four years of it -- in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth.
Baca and Caldwell went down in cannabis history as the first to be charged under the Marihuana Tax Act, a status that immortalized these two individuals with ￼￼￼￼ criminal records￼￼ as historically significant convictions in the War on Drugs.
A near-century of prohibition has followed, and it persists today even as cannabis legalization has spread to 36 states medically (and to 18 for adult use as of October 2021). Baca and Caldwell were just the first of millions. To examine the most recent history, 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. An estimated 40,000 Americans remain incarcerated for non-violent drug convictions while the legal cannabis industry in the U.S. simultaneously surpassed $9 billion in value in 2020. While countless lives were disrupted and families separated as a result of Prohibition, the legal cannabis industry now finds itself uniquely positioned to heal the wounds of the past.
Building an equitable post-prohibition cannabis industry
A major challenge facing the legal cannabis industry today is how to best address the injustice of prohibition while still fighting to end it in more than a dozen states and at the federal level. It is incumbent upon the industry to recognize, uplift, and support those whose freedom was sacrificed under unjust prohibition laws.
That’s why Trulieve is partnering with the Last Prisoner Project and Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM) to take meaningful steps toward expanding legal intervention, public education, and legislative advocacy. In addition, we’re pledging $10,000 in support of the Last Prisoner Project to advance their goal of restorative justice for those who have suffered as a result of cannabis convictions.
It is only by advancing cannabis legalization efforts, securing automatic expungement of arrest records, and creating employment and ownership opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals rejoining society that the legal cannabis industry will be able to repair the damage done by a near-century of prohibition. These organizations are equipped to do just that.
Here’s a little bit you should know about these two vital organizations:
- Founded in 2019, the Last Prisoner Project is dedicated to cannabis criminal justice reform. LPP is focused on ensuring that the wealth and resources generated by the legal cannabis industry are used in part to release and restore those who suffered under cannabis criminalization. Follow @lastprisonerproject or visit the Last Prisoner Project website to learn more. Text FREEDOM to 24365 to donate.
- M4MM cultivates a culturally inclusive environment where diversity of thought, experience, and opportunities are valued, respected, appreciated, and celebrated. M4MM is a resource to the community by providing information, referrals, advocacy, coordination, and education regarding cannabis legislation, events, initiatives, and discussions. Donate to support Minorities for Medical Marijuana here.
Through partnerships like these, the legal cannabis industry can do its part to help our communities heal. As we continue to push forward for an ultimate end to cannabis prohibition, we must also stop and help those who were left behind in the wake of the War on Drugs. Trulieve is proud to be part of those efforts and looks forward to building a stronger, inclusive cannabis community together.