An estimated 6,500 people could be affected by Biden’s recent pardon for federal convictions of cannabis possession. Since most possession charges occur at the state level, Biden encouraged governors to take similar pardoning actions. Some in the cannabis industry were skeptical of the recent announcement, but do believe it is a first step toward legalization. Jesce Horton is the co-founder and CEO of Portland-based cannabis production company LOWD. He joins us to share his thoughts on this recent announcement and his hopes for the future.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. President Biden announced yesterday that he would pardon an estimated 6,500 people. They had all been given federal convictions for simple marijuana possession, as opposed to distribution or selling. Jesce Horton joins us now to talk about this news. He is the co-founder and CEO of the cannabis company LOWD. He’s also a founder of NuProject, a nonprofit working to help communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. Jesce Horton, welcome back to Think Out Loud.
Jesce Horton: Hey, great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Miller: Thanks for joining us. What went through your mind when you heard about these presidential pardons?
Horton: Well, I think directly, the first thing that most people in the industry think is some level of skepticism regarding some of these announcements, like the introduction of different bills into Congress, so forth and so on. But I would say, after the skepticism and reading some of the small print, without a doubt, I consider it a watershed moment towards federal legalization. Even though there’s not a lot of tangible things, or not a great number of tangible things that will happen directly, this certainly is moving us in the right direction.
Miller: I should say what this doesn’t mean. According to the New York Times, no one is currently in federal prison solely for marijuana possession, so this is not going to get people out of prison. And it’s not an expungement; it doesn’t clear people’s records. But it does bring back certain civil rights: the right to vote or to hold office or to sit on a jury. So, how significant do you think this will be for those 6,500 people?
Horton: I think there’s varying levels of significance. I don’t want to be too optimistic but, without a doubt, I think it will be a help. As you mentioned, 6,500 [people] have these simple marijuana possession charges. But there’s certainly a lot to be desired as we talk about really restoring what was taken away from them as it relates to cannabis charges in this country.
Miller: You have been on our show a couple of times, but it’s been a while. I wonder if you don’t mind just reminding listeners a little bit about your own family story. Because you were heavily affected by marijuana possession laws, your family was, even before you were born. Do you mind telling us that story?
Horton: Yeah, of course. My father, before attending his first day of class at the University of North Carolina, actually was arrested for what we would now consider a small amount of cannabis, but given a distribution charge. So, unfortunately, instead of spending his next four years in one of the best schools in the country, he spent his next four years in prison – four years of a seven-year sentence. After getting out, regardless of being the smartest guy that I know, ultimately was able to only get a job as a janitor, even after getting his college degree. So, without a doubt, they tried to keep me away from cannabis. I ultimately got arrested as well, even though the repercussions were not nearly as bad as my father’s.
Miller: What did that mean for your life?
Horton: I think, as of right now, you see where I am. You see what I’m doing, or some people, what I’m doing in the cannabis industry. It was ultimately a very positive thing to happen in my life – finding cannabis and experiencing some of those difficulties that helped to push me towards helping others, right, and then making more of a place in the cannabis industry. But, you know, at the time it didn’t feel like that. I definitely had a short period of depression. I got kicked out of school as it related to a cannabis arrest, or I lost a scholarship where I was no longer able to afford school. I lost what I thought was my dream job at a great engineering company because of my cannabis past. So there was certainly a time in my life where things could have gone a lot differently than they went.
Miller: The vast majority of simple possession convictions are not federal crimes; they’re at the state level. The president called for action there, but that’s about all he can do. He can use his bully pulpit to tell states to try to follow his lead. What are you expecting from more conservative states?
Horton: That’s a great question. That’s a great question because my cannabis charges are actually in the great state of Florida. No one in Florida is expecting Governor DeSantis to follow the lead of the president. I would imagine that, given the current political climate, that many in conservative states won’t be expecting that either. However, without a doubt, I’d say it’s a watershed moment in that it’s a shift in thinking. It’s unique and maybe it’s the start of some of these governors in some of these conservative states really truly understanding the negative implications of cannabis arrests, what they do to their community, what they do to people who otherwise would have amazing opportunity in this country.
Miller: Jesce, thanks very much.
Horton: Thank you.
Miller: That’s Jesce Horton, co-founder and CEO of LOWD – LOWD stands for Love Our Weed Daily – also the founder of NuProject, a nonprofit working to help communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.
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