The recent stay-at-home mandates have left many of us bored and stir-crazy, itching to get out of our homes and back to our normal lives, but for many incarcerated men and women, COVID-19 is creating a much bigger problem.

The criminalization of cannabis and the prison-industrial complex go hand-in-hand. From the Reagan administration’s War on Drugs to the implementation of policies such as stop-and-frisk, the poor and downtrodden, specifically people of color, have been funneled into prisons. With the recent legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in many states across the country, this rising industry is creating jobs and opportunities where once it only meant a prison sentence.

The current pandemic has escalated the need for prison reforms. Even though overcrowding and underfunding have both been consistent problems in prisons, COVID-19 exacerbates these already-dire problems. Because of the close proximity of prisoners, the virus is expected to spread rapidly among the prison populations. While we can make the decision to stay in our homes and reduce exposures, those that are incarcerated don’t have that liberty. They don’t have control over their food, their living situation, or their exposure to others.

Campaigns such as the Last Prisoner Project hope to raise funds to relieve folks that are incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes. The campaign aims to provide clemency, expungement, and reentry of prisoners after serving their sentence. Currently the Last Prisoner Project has added another focus to its approach: helping prisoners survive the COVID-19 crisis. Funds will go towards phone calls, medical care, commissary, and legal fees.

According to the Last Prisoner Project, “We've been working tirelessly to protect our incarcerated constituents from the potentially catastrophic consequences of COVID-19. We've seen some positive responses from jurisdictions across the country, but the situation remains dire and conditions are worsening at prisons across the country.

Despite being legalized or decriminalized in some capacity in many states across the country, marijuana is still federally illegal in the United States. In certain states, legislation has been passed to annul or expunge previous low-level marijuana convictions, but that doesn’t help those that are currently incarcerated for previous offenses.

According to a press release from the Last Prisoner Project, elected officials are encouraged to do the following to help prisoners during this time and reduce the impact of the virus:

  • Identifying prisoners scheduled for release in the next six months and sending them early into home confinement.
  • Paroling prisoners aged 65+ with priority given to prisoners who are particularly at-risk to the virus.
  • Reducing prisoners’ direct supervision to promote social distancing.
  • Suspending medical visit copays for prisoners.
  • Free “smart visitations” and phone calls for incarcerated individuals.
  • The release of all cannabis prisoners.

These measures can mitigate the effect that COVID-19 will have on this vulnerable population. Cannabis companies such as Lowell Herb Co. in California have chosen to donate to the Last Prisoner Project to provide aid to those in need.

For those wanting to help, you can donate to the Last Prisoner Project, sign up to volunteer to help with advocacy by writing letters or organizing rallies, or simply by signing up for their newsletter to stay informed about the ever-changing state of cannabis legalization in the country. For more information, visit https://www.lastprisonerproject.org/.