Last Prisoner Project Calls Out Sentences Disproportionate To Offenses

By OBSERVER Newsroom

Vibes, the rolling paper brand created by rapper and entrepreneur Berner, recently teamed up with the Last Prisoner Project in conjunction with creative company Mother to launch Release Papers, rolling papers at the heart of a campaign to engage the public to advocate on behalf of individuals imprisoned for marijuana related convictions. 

Release Papers launched in stores and online at July 24.

“So many people are still locked up with lengthy sentences related to cannabis, while at the same time, so many states have made up their mind that cannabis should be legal, and those states are where those people are still serving time, which makes absolutely no sense,” Berner said. “We have to speak up, stand next to and support causes like Last Prisoner Project.”

Tens of thousands of people remain incarcerated for cannabis in the United States. Marijuana is still classified as a schedule-1 substance, which has disproportionately high sentencing. According to recent polls, 72% of Americans support cannabis pardons. 

Release Papers aims to transform rolling cannabis into an opportunity to educate and engage the public to participate in advocating for prisoners. Each paper includes the name of one of four incarcerated people and a QR code that points to the campaign’s landing page. There, supporters can sign the Cannabis Clemency Now petition urging President Joe Biden to release federal cannabis prisoners. People also can participate in a letter-writing program that sends messages to the featured inmates, who are Edwin Rubis, serving a 40-year sentence in Talladega, Alabama, for a victimless offense; Hector McGurk, serving a life sentence in Victorville without the possibility of parole for a nonviolent marijuana offense; Moe Taher, sentenced to 25 years in Welch, West Virginia, for selling cannabis; and Ricardo Ashmeade, serving 22 years in Pollock, Louisiana, for a victimless offense.

“Vibes Release Papers are helping illuminate the injustice our constituents continue to face, even as more states legalize cannabis. President Biden has the power to right history and free Edwin, Hector, Moe, and Ricardo with the stroke of a pen, says Stephanie Shepard, Last Prisoner Project board member and director of advocacy. “We are grateful to have Vibes join our fight as we keep advocating until everyone still incarcerated for cannabis is fully free.”

The work is personal for Shepard, who was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana in 2010. As a first-time, nonviolent offender, she was sentenced to 10 years’ federal time. After serving nine years, she was placed on federal probation for an additional five years.

A portion of the profits from the new rolling papers go to the Last Prisoner Project, which calls on President Biden to continue to act on broad-based criminal justice and drug policy reform by granting clemency to the tens of thousands of individuals currently incarcerated due to, or otherwise unduly burdened by, federal cannabis-related convictions.

Over the coming weeks, “Inside Out” will highlight the experiences of formerly incarcerated individuals and their families, look at efforts to improve local jail and prison facilities, and share the perspectives of Black correctional staffers and attorneys who work on change from within and activists who have dedicated their lives to shining a light on the inequities of the criminal justice system.