Illicit CEO Adam Diltz gives a tour of the company’s cultivation site in June 2021. Credit: Mike Fourcher / Grown In

As Missouri attempts to enter the legal cannabis space, some groups are making an effort to highlight the harm prohibition has caused individuals in the state.

Illicit, one of the largest dispensaries in the state, has teamed up with Last Prisoners Project to create the “Freedoms Campaign” to share the stories of eight individuals imprisoned for cannabis charges and the way the convictions affected their lives after release. The Kansas City-based business will have subjects, what they call “POWs”, make a series of video interviews speaking about their experiences as they seek to raise $100,000 to pay for legal fees and reintegration into society after release.

“We’re excited to help shed light on the real life experiences of this country’s cannabis POWs,” Illicit’s vice president of marketing David Craig said. “These statistics are more than numbers. They’re real people with real stories. Every day without action is another lost opportunity to rectify this situation.  

The eight former incarcerees share their stories at the Strange Land Recording Studios, owned by rapper Tech N9ne, speaking roughly an hour each. Each profile highlights their life and experience during and after sentencing. 

The first to discuss their sentencing was Donte West, who was sentenced in 2017 to nearly 8 years in prison for possessing less than a pound of cannabis. He was released in 2021 with all charges dropped after a judge ruled that prosecutors had withheld evidence that would’ve exonerated him. He wrote a motion for appeal on a typewriter over a two-year period.

“We’re highlighting inspirational injustice stories in the hopes that the community will make a change,” West said. “Voting your leaders into office is so important, but you must inspire voters through stories to make that change.”

The launch of the Freedoms Campaign coincides with the release of a new product line, “West by Illicit.” 30% of the product’s proceeds will go to Missouri’s incarcerated cannabis prisoners to assist with their legal and reintegration fees. 

Craig said that he is confident that the product will reach over $100,000 over the next three months.

Adult use legalization efforts in Missouri face an uncertain future, with Rep. Ron Hicks attempting to pass a bill in the state legislature that legalizes cannabis in the state and a ballot campaign that is amassing hundreds of thousands of signatures. HB2704 would legalize recreational use in the state, double the amount of license holders, and give a chance for nonviolent offenders to petition for expungement for cannabis related offenses.

“We believe Missouri and the United States as a whole have reached an important tipping point in our collective consciousness around cannabis reform,” said Illicit CEO Adam Dilz. “The Freedoms Campaign drives forward our mission to free the more than 40,000 cannabis prisoners convicted of an activity that’s no longer a crime.”

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Trey Arline is Grown In’s Midwest Reporter. He was most recently with the Daily Herald, but has also reported for Vegas PBS, The Nevada Independent, and the Associated Press.