An open conversation exploring the fundamental injustice of individuals, particularly people of color, who experienced firsthand the devastating and unjust impact of the criminilization of cannabis, specifically, incarceration for cannabis offenses. These experiences will be juxtaposed with the rising tide of legalization and the burgeoning cannabis industry. The panel will then explore how the legal cannabis industry can work together to help repair these injustices with direct, tangible actions.
Restorative Justice in Cannabis
Oakland, CA native Evelyn LaChapelle is an experienced events coordinator and community liaison, who is now utilizing her professional position within the legal cannabis industry to advocate for restorative justice. She is an active member of the Last Prisoner Project, dedicated to redressing the past and continuing harms caused by the war on cannabis through clemency and reentry programs. Evelyn has been impacted by the War on Drugs firsthand: in 2013, the Loyola Marymount University graduate and mother of a four-year-old daughter was convicted on three charges related to her minor role in a marijuana distribution operation. She was sentenced to 87 months in prison. She had no prior record, nor any indicators that she was a repeat offender. On February 1, 2019 she was released from federal custody and began her 4-year probation sentence, during which she was hired as a sales and catering coordinator for a prominent hotel, but then subsequently fired after a co-worker searched her name and found her convictions.
Evelyn has overcome these challenges and found success in the legal cannabis industry through her work at infusion technology company Vertosa, where she manages all public and industry events. Back in her Oakland hometown, where Vertosa is based, Evelyn coordinates happy hours and neighborhood collaboration events, such as First Fridays, which make space for locals to interact and enjoy cannabis as a community. Evelyn also spearheads Vertosa’s partnership with the Last Prisoner Project, as well as community service programs including gardening outings.
Through community engagement, Evelyn works to create a more transparent and accessible industry that encourages minorities to penetrate all aspects of the business, including in the labs and the executive offices. She has also made it her goal to create a real second chance for men and women being released from prison through her work with both Vertosa and the Last Prisoner Project.
In 2013 Natalia Wade was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to Money Launder in North Carolina although she had never left her home state of California. Her only involvement in this conspiracy was depositing marijuna profits into her bank account.
From our “Federal justice system” she received a sentence of 87 months in federal prison and four years probation as a first-time, nonviolent offender.
Natalia is now released and living in Northern California, but while incarcerated she was diagnosed with Lupus and Rheumatoid arthritis. She suffered immensely under the failing healthcare system of the prisons. Natalia is still struggling to recover from the negligence of prison healthcare.
In 2011 Stephanie Shepard was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana in New York. Beyond selling just 4 ounces of cannabis, her only involvement in distribution was simply acting as caretaker to a man who had sold marijuana and was struggling with a life threatening illness.
For her kindness, she was rewarded by our “justice system” with a sentence of 120 months in federal prison and five years probation as a first-time, nonviolent offender.
Stephanie is now released and living in Northern California, but while incarcerated her beloved father passed away. Stephanie will never recover the time she lost or the moments with her family that were cruelly taken from her by the federal government.
Sarah Gersten is the Executive Director and General Counsel for the Last Prisoner Project. Throughout her career Sarah has worked at the intersection of cannabis legalization and criminal justice reform. After working as an attorney at a congressional agency where she focused on legislative policy, Sarah co-founded a cannabis centric law firm where she led the firm's pro bono initiative, taking on expungement and record sealing cases. Sarah went on to co-found and serve as CEO for a legal tech startup that offers affordable legal solutions for small cannabis business owners, as well as free expungement services.
Sarah is a member of the National Cannabis Bar Association and the NORML Legal Committee. She received her JD from Harvard Law School.