"Everything Costs More on the Inside:" Meet the Women Fighting for Pot Prisoners
Free Book Preview Cannabis Capital
By Ngaio Bealum
Cannabis legalization is booming. Arizona has a REC initiative on the 2020 ballot and will most likely be among several states to legalize November. The Governor of Pennsylvania wants to legalize cannabis, mostly because the COVID pandemic has caused huge financial losses for the state, and he hopes to generate some extra revenue.
Listen: The Governor of Pennsylvania isn’t the first person to think about selling a little weed as a side-hustle. He’s just more likely to avoid prison time for doing it. There are thousands of people in jail right now for doing cannabis, and they need our help. Never forget that the cannabis legalization movement was started as a way to keep people out of jail. The entire cannabis industry needs to work toward freeing all of the people that are in jail for nonviolent cannabis “crimes”.
Stephanie Landa is the head of FreedomGrowForever.org, an organization dedicated to supporting cannabis prisoners. They send money to people in jail for cannabis and have a program that encourages people to write letters to prisoners.
“When you are in prison, you need money. Money for shoes. Money for healthy food. You need about five hundred dollars per month”, she told me from her home in Marin County, Calif.
Landa is extremely familiar with the federal prison system, having done six years for growing MED in San Francisco. “We had written permission to grow medical cannabis from Police Captain Cashman, but then he turned all of our info over to the feds in 2002 and that was it.”
While in prison, she started the Landa Prisoner Outreach Program, encouraging people on the outside to write letters to cannabis prisoners so they wouldn’t feel so alone and cut-off. When she got out, she expanded the program and started raising funds to send to prisoners. “We send 50 bucks a month to every prisoner in our program, and we send their kids 50 bucks every Christmas.”
Freedom Grow is currently helping about 80 prisoners and she would like do more. “Eventually, we would like to send every prisoner $500 a month and give them a few grand when they get released, so they have a cushion while they look for work. No one should ever go to jail for weed. It’s a no-brainer.”
She relies on donations and says 100 percent of the money she receives goes to the prisoners. When I asked her what could be done to support her project, she was very straightforward. “We need volunteers there and more money”. She has received a a nice donation from The Last Prisoner Project and she speaks very highly about the support she’s gotten from Amy Povah, the director of Can-Do Clemency.
“Everything costs more on the inside.”
Povah has also spent time in federal prison. She was sentenced to 17.5 years on drug conspiracy charges for passing on a phone message. President Bill Clinton granted her clemency and she was released in 2000, after serving nine years.
“Stephanie is amazing,” Povah says “She has never strayed from her path. It is really expensive to survive in prison. Phone calls. Feminine hygiene products. Everything costs more on the inside.” Povah started Can-Do (Clemency for All Nonviolent Drug Offenders) right after she was released, feeling that her experience with federal clemency procedures could help her streamline the process.
“I was a bit naive. Gore lost, and Bush wasn’t as interested,” Povah said. Frustrated with the pace, she switched to “something more tangible,” directing and producing 420 The Documentary, an award winning film that explores not just 420, but also prohibition.
After Obama was elected and started the Obama Clemency Initiative, the Can-Do program was suddenly in high demand. “We were the only non-profit focused on Clemency. So far, she has helped more than 100 receive clemency from the federal government, but there are still around 30,000 applications that need to be processed. “I wish we could take more cases, but we have such a long waiting list”.
She says that they always need donations, and that people can help by visiting the website and signing the change.org petitions for each prisoner. “We need advocacy in the media and on social media. Don’t just sign the petition, Share it.”
Drug use shouldn’t be a criminal offense. Drug abuse is a public health issue and not a criminal issue. Until the United States starts to behave more like Portugal and less like a bunch of carceral state fanatics, programs like Freedom Grow and CAN-DO Clemency are vital. Hopefully, we won’t need them forever.
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