Short PBS movie series sheds light on injustice of cannabis prosecutions
As more states continue to legalize, the legal cannabis industry is expected to generate $ 80 billion in annual sales by 2030, according to a short film set to start airing tonight on PBS. However, there is a disturbing dichotomy that contradicts this rosy estimate. Thanks to outdated laws, 40,000 people are currently languishing in prison for non-violent cannabis offenses.
Entitled “Spotlight On: Last Prisoner Project”, the four-minute video highlights the unfairness of cannabis prosecutions. The work of The project of the last prisoner, a non-profit organization focused on cannabis-related criminal justice reform. Presented by The Beehouse Justice Initiative, a New York City organization dedicated to healing “some of the damage caused by the disparate enforcement of the cannabis ban” and a video production company Matador Contentt, the film is narrated by Chris Rock and directed by Ezra Paek.
Showcasing the detrimental effects of marijuana prohibition, the film introduces viewers to the case of Stephanie Shepard, an African-American woman, who was charged in 2009 with a non-violent cannabis offense.
“I didn’t think this plant these days could get someone like me with no criminal history, no jail time,” she said, recalling her trial and sentence. “When the judge said 120 months, it wasn’t even calculated in my head.”
Even after her lawyer told her she was sent to jail for 10 years, Shepard, who had worked at a “big real estate company” in New York City before her arrest, was in shock. “I just remember my sister screaming,” she added.
Since his release from prison, Shepard has been working with the Last Prisoner Project to get his life back on track. As she recounted in the film, her once promising career path included a stint for the NBA. “Now I’m trying to find a job at Starbucks and I’m nervous,” she admitted. “I feel like I’m labeled. I feel like I’m being judged.
More than half of all drug arrests in the United States are for possession of cannabis, Beehouse says, and despite roughly equal rates of use, people of color are almost four times more likely than whites to be arrested. for cannabis. Cannabis-related arrests can prevent people from getting or keeping jobs, getting a scholarship, living in social housing, and successfully re-adjusting to mainstream society.
“The marijuana ban has never really been about public order and public safety,” said Natalie Papillion, director of strategic initiatives at the Last Prisoner Project. “It has always been used as a tool of social control and social control of certain populations.”
Noting how the treatment of people who use cannabis in this country has been “terribly and selectively destructive,” Gregory Heyman, managing partner at Beehouse, hopes this short film and others of the same are jailed for possession of cannabis.
“Spotlight On: The Last Prisoner Project” is the first of six short films that will focus on cannabis and incarceration.