Like many others, I have watched the recent events of police brutality and extrajudicial killings of black people over these past weeks in horror. I have delayed commenting because I wanted to listen to what black, indigenous and people of color are saying and to take time for self-reflection so that I could process my thoughts.
First, let me make clear: Black Lives Matter. Period. When you accept this first statement, it should be clear that we must reform our criminal justice system.
Having spent several years of my life in the criminal justice system for my work as a medical marijuana caregiver, I have gained first-hand knowledge of the inequities in the system. I watched friends, family, and cannabis patients all over Michigan have their rights trampled, and it was a huge eye opener. Then in prison I got to know people from all nationalities and walks of life. I witnessed the extraordinary long sentences for drug convictions given to people of color compared to the shorter white-collar crime sentences of predominantly white people. I’m talking about 10, 20 and 30-year sentences for a few thousand dollars of narcotics when multi-million-dollar (usually white) embezzlers were serving only a couple of years.
Research has clearly shown that the War on Drugs has been an abject failure that has disproportionately harmed minority communities. But beyond that, it has been used to create asset forfeiture programs that result in policing for profit, the militarization of police departments, for-profit corporate prisons and the defunding of our mental health programs. Fighting these injustices are what the Defund the Police movement is all about.
The recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Sean Reed and Breonna Taylor have finally sparked so many people around the country and world to have real conversations about fighting racism and fixing our broken criminal justice system. My pledge is that I will continue listening and learning about how to be a better ally in the fight against injustice, and to take concrete action steps toward that end.
My company, Redemption, was founded out of my deeply held desire to right the wrongs of cannabis prohibition, which has disproportionately harmed people of color. One of our very first efforts will be to help free Michael Thompson, a black man serving a life sentence for cannabis while other businesses are now doing exactly what he did with welcome approval from state authorities. We will also be providing funding to organizations that provide job training and other prisoner re-entry programs, and we are actively seeking out partnerships with other like-minded organizations to support meaningful criminal justice reforms.
We can never take back the lives that have been lost to police brutality and racial injustice, but I am confident that by working together we can make progress in our country’s constant endeavor to become a “more perfect Union.”
Ryan Basore is CEO of Redemption Cannabis. In 2013, he was sentenced to four years in federal prison for his role as a medical marijuana caregiver. After completing his sentence, he decided to dedicate his life to the cannabis industry and criminal justice reform.