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Cannabis Industry Tackles Justice Reform With ‘Last Prisoner Project’

Industry icon Steve DeAngelo launches fundraising effort with infused dinner at Jim Belushi’s Brentwood home.

Mary Bailey Steve D'Angelo, Jim Belushi
Giacobazzi Yanez

Jim Belushi is standing two feet away in the backyard of his spacious Brentwood home, honking a harp like he’s a Blues Brother back in sweet home Chicago accompanied by noted reggae band Rebelution’s Eric Rachmany and Kyle Ahern, who provide a 12-bar shuffle. There’s the sweet smell of skunk — and success — hanging on this perfect moonlit SoCal night. The assembled: a who’s who of Los Angeles’ local cannabis businesses, are pleasantly buzzing from Hosted chef Alex Goldman’s subtly elevating multi-course infused meal, most relieved they decided to take the hosts up on their round-trip Uber offer.

The occasion is a launch fundraiser for the non-profit “Last Prisoner Project,” conceived of by longtime pot activist and reformer Steve DeAngelo, dubbed “Father of the Cannabis Industry” by San Francisco mayor Willie Brown in 2014, and Chairman Emeritus for Harborside, Inc., a vertically integrated marijuana company, who has made it his mission to make sure the burgeoning BUSINESS doesn’t lose its righteous, political heritage.

“It was brown and black people who first brought hemp to this country,” the wizened, pig-tailed DeAngelo explains. “And then it was championed by those with HIV, those that society chooses to forget.”

DeAngelo’s vow is, “We will not rest and we will not stop until the last cannabis prisoner is set free.”

Indeed, just as the cannabis industry gets ready to explode onto the mainstream — even the Greek Theater was getting into the act with a “Weed Mayhem” all-day takeover on Saturday — the harsh realization is that many individuals are still languishing in jails across the country, let alone around the world, for doing exactly what these latter-day cannabis capitalists are trying to do… make a living from the sacred plant.

The $1,000-a-plate dinner raised almost $30,000 towards an initial goal of $250,000 with proceeds earmarked first to navigate the clemency petition route, and then to get into cases that range up to life sentences.  More information can be found at www.lastprisonerproject.org, @lastprisonerproject on Twitter or text FREEDOM to 24365.

DeAngelo recounted the story of a friend of his, Chuck Cox, a car repairman, musician and sometime pot dealer caught with 14 pounds and now serving a four-year sentence. “He’s sitting in prison while millions are being made in the legal weed business,” says DeAngelo. “Imagine being in a cell, looking out and seeing people build intergenerational wealth for doing exactly the same thing you’re locked up for. That was the genesis of this project.”

Rebelution manager Dean Raise, who dubs himself an Ashkenazi Jew from Russia by way of South Africa, was another principal in the non-profit, along with Managing Director Mary Bailey and Executive Director Sarah Gersten, a former U.S. Copyright Office attorney who wants to use her experience for a good cause.

Belushi, who hosted the event, has been a bigtime supporter and investor in the cannabis business, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself amid the industry pros.

A quick perusal found a knowledgeable, stoner lawyer from Vancouver, Robert W.E. Laurie,  who specializes in drug law and lamented his own country’s approach to adult use. Yet another, From the Earth’s David Moss, went from being an EMT to a concert promoter (Reggae on the River in Humboldt County) to owning a vertically integrated chain of dispensaries, and just listed his company on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Jeff Welsh’s Frontiers Law Group is a one-stop shop for any cannabis company’s needs, from marketing and advertising to counter.

Perhaps the most intriguing — and appropriate — enterprise was the conversion of now-shuttered Claremont Custody Center, a private facility in Coalinga, Calif., outside of Harris Ranch into a cannabis farm by Ocean Grown Extracts, a company that boasts Damian Marley as an investor.

“We want to get every single cannabis prisoner out of their cells and back home to their families,” vows DeAngelo.

What better way than to turn jails into grow centers?

Pictured, from left: Mary Bailey, Steve DeAngelo, Jim Belushi and Andrew DeAngelo.