There are victims of the war on drugs, and they deserve a place at the table, says Casey Dalton, co-owner of Ocean Grown Extracts. Casey and his brother, Dan Dalton, have found a way to lay the groundwork for their social and criminal justice enterprise.
His company has a brand called Evidence that sells products in bags of real evidence to help consumers see the injustice of the war on drugs and the discomfort caused by that injustice. A portion of the proceeds from Evidence will be donated to the non-profit organization Last Prisoner Project (LPP).
I think customers and the public assume that because it’s legal now, they wouldn’t even have the idea that someone is behind bars for a non-violent cannabis crime, Casey says.
I think it’s our responsibility, if we choose to be in this space, to take responsibility for what’s already happening, Casey says, referring to the businesses that benefit from legal cannabis. Whether we were part of it or a victim of it, I think it’s our responsibility to bring attention to this problem.
As a testament to their commitment, the Daltons, along with singer Damian Marley, purchased a former private prison in Coalinga, California, where they now manufacture and distribute their laboratory-certified products. As I walked through the building after the initial inspection, Casey remembered: We can turn this dark and sad place into something that helps people.
Casey said prisons are intentionally placed within city limits because they need to be as far away as possible from places like libraries, parks and homes: Ironically, the same rules apply to cannabis.
Ocean Grown Extracts has been a partner with PPP since its inception, advocating for criminal justice reform for the 40,000 people in prison in the US for cannabis-related offenses.
What people don’t realize is that we are not even talking about the remnants of the laws that existed, but the laws that exist today. The front doors are still open and people are being arrested as we make this call, Dan says. If people knew they could help and it happened anyway, they wouldn’t tolerate it.
According to the NPL report, law enforcement in the U.S. made more than 600,000 arrests for cannabis possession in 2019 alone, more than all murders, rapes, robberies and other serious crimes combined. While white New Yorkers were twice as likely as non-whites to use cannabis in 2020, blacks and Hispanics accounted for 93 percent of cannabis arrests.
It’s important to know who you’re supporting, what the brand is, who they are and where they make their products, Dan says.
The cultivation of Ocean Extracts began in 2013 with Dan and Casey’s brother, Kelly Dalton. Kelly founded the company under Proposition 215, which operated in a legal gray area that allowed businesses to be protected by state medical cannabis laws, but still subject to federal prohibition laws.
We didn’t have a regulated system to protect him, to protect people like him, Casey says. Many of [Kelly’s] friends were arrested then, and it had nothing to do with the operation itself. That’s what this was all about: Who was your lawyer?
Casey says she was concerned for Kelly’s safety, who was treated daily with Rick Simpson oil: Just as we turned on the coffee pot, he turned on his. Everyone who had cancer knew someone who knew Kelly, and Kelly was there to deliver free medicine three or four times a week.
After the first inspection of the old prison in 2015, Casey said, it looked like a bomb had exploded. The prison lost its funding due to overcrowding and had to be abandoned within a week. Amidst this chaos, there are things like pictures on the wall and pen holders on the desks.
There was a lot of anxiety in the beginning. The unknown is always scary, Casey said, referring to his relationship with the people of Coalinga. To get the city to pass this ordinance, Daltonians attended two council meetings a week.
There were a lot of questions, Casey says, and I found that the more open you were, the more honest you were, the more willing you were to be the face of the situation, to answer their questions and face their fears, the easier and simpler it became. In the end, on the final vote, no one spoke out against it.
That’s not to say that some people in the city don’t agree on cannabis. However, they respect companies that hire local plumbers and electricians and give their neighbors jobs with good working conditions. To ensure the safety of the establishment, the Daltons even hired former prison guards.
Dan, who sits on the LOB’s advisory board, said: It’s the best work, the most important work I’ve ever done and been a part of, and it’s a kind of drug I prefer now.