With his deep cannabis roots firmly planted in the Northern California growing community, CannaCraft co-founder Dennis Hunter plans to use those connections to tackle social injustice with a new product line — the Farmer and the Felon.
One of Sonoma County’s largest cannabis companies, CannaCraft, released the new product with the help of some established growers to raise awareness and provide funding to the fight against unjust treatment of cannabis offenders who end up behind bars.
Following a stint of living underground after his Humboldt County cultivation site was raided by federal agents in 1998, Hunter was arrested in 2002, resulting in a prison term of over six years. That, he said, gives him a sense of the fear and distrust of what it’s like to be on the other side of the law.
“I’ve seen it first hand in prison. It used to blow me away. And now with COVID-19, these people are stuck in pretty scary situations in prison — one that can turn into a death sentence,” he said.
CannaCraft’s latest brand — the Farmer and the Felon — takes Hunter back to those troubling times. His roots in and commitment to the cannabis industry run deep. That’s why the businessman plans to use the popularity of the flower to help others facing the same fate while languishing in prison. The brand’s proceeds are earmarked to support the Last Prisoner Project, a coalition of cannabis industry leaders, activists and artists working on prison reform.
“The story of CannaCraft has taken so many different pathways. A lot of those have been so rough. It’s been a roller coaster ride,” Hunter told the Business Journal during an interview with his business partner Ned Fussell. In an industry valued at $40 billion nationwide, they’re calling these efforts to fight social injustice “cannabis for change”
The men were introduced to the Last Prisoner Project during a benefit party at Jim Belushi’s house in Los Angeles about eight months ago. The nonprofit group seeks criminal justice reform and provides legal assistance, with a focus on prisoner release, record clearing and programs geared to helping ex-cons reenter society.
Within three months of hitting most cannabis dispensary shelves and making an online presence, the Farmer and the Felon has raked in $1 million. More than $50,000 of those funds were channeled to the Last Prisoner Project, Hunter said. The more than 50 Northern California farmers CannaCraft works with have welcome the effort to divert these proceeds to promote social justice.
“It’s exciting to put the best flowers into this brand,” Hunter said, giving a nod to the California farmers.
“It’s insane to me that there are still people sitting in jail while we legalize cannabis across the country,” said Honeydew Farms grower Alex Moore, a 30-year veteran farmer in Humboldt County. “Farmer and the Felon has created an avenue for us to help those in need, and we are thrilled to be a part of (its) mission.”
The need to set the bar higher
American prisons hold almost 2.3 million people in more than 7,000 federal, state, local, juvenile, immigration and Indian Country facilities, the Prison Policy Initiative reported in March. Drug offenses still account for the mass incarceration of nearly half a million people, and non-violent drug convictions numbering more than 40,000 are deemed the “defining feature of the federal prison system,” where Hunter was jailed.
“It changed my life. I don’t want others to go through it,” Hunter said. “I thought it was a huge injustice. I never felt like I did anything wrong.”
Marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug in the United States, despite being legal in a number of states.
Right and wrong is not necessarily black and white
A reflection of these racially charged times of civil unrest, Hunter cites the unfair incarceration of people of color who make up a large portion of offenders thrown and held in the slammer.
“This hits home for us in a lot of ways,” Hunter said in response to the Black Lives Movement asking for police and criminal justice reform after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
In the drug world, Hunter noted the disparity among minorities in the prison system.
“What’s happening now is eye opening,” he said.
According to an analysis published in April by the American Civil Liberties Union, Blacks are nearly four times as likely as Caucasians to be arrested in the United States for marijuana possession offenses.
Hands down, Fussell and Hunter expressed gratitude they live and run a business in California.
“The (American prison) system is rooted in racism. It preys on people and hurts family members,” Fussell said. “The punishment far outweighs the crime.”
CannaCraft isn’t the only organization seeking to give back to notable civil rights causes.
The National Cannabis Industry Association announced Tuesday it’s offering free memberships to people of color and marginalized communities in the industry.
The Social Equity Scholarship Program intends “to level the playing field” for networking, educational and resource opportunities to the nation’s largest trade organization.
“The tragic deaths of George Floyd and so many others at the hands of police have caused a national reckoning about systemic racism and inequality in all facets of life, including the cannabis industry,” association Executive Director Aaron Smith said. “As an organization founded on the principles of justice, fairness and inclusion, this program is a necessary step for us to better uphold and promote those values.”
The application is available now.
Tackling the larger-than-life issue of racism that plays out from the streets to the criminal justice system has been long in coming to the national organization.
“This program is one way that NCIA can help empower black and brown communities that were and are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement for cannabis offenses,” said association Board of Directors Chairman Khurshid Khoja, who referred to his member-based advocacy group’s gesture as “a moral obligation.”