News Release

Last Prisoner Project and Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Establish Cannabis Justice Initiative 

Effort Will Focus on Pursuing Multiple Avenues of Relief, Including Clemency, Compassionate Release, Expungement, and Reform, on Behalf of Those Directly Impacted by Cannabis Convictions and Their Collateral Consequences

Washington, DC (March 23, 2021) — The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Last Prisoner Project (LPP) today announced the establishment of the Cannabis Justice Initiative, a new initiative focused on bringing much-needed relief to individuals whose lives continue to be negatively impacted by cannabis criminalization.

Despite state-regulated adult-use and medicinal marijuana taking hold across the country, hundreds of thousands of people continue to be arrested and incarcerated for cannabis-related activity. Last Prisoner Project and NACDL are focused on assisting those left behind by these laws—people who continue to be punished for conduct now legal in dozens of states.

“With the legalization of cannabis sweeping the nation it’s imperative that state and federal actors prioritize back-end relief for those still suffering under our nation’s unjust and inequitable approach to cannabis policy,” said Last Prisoner Project Executive Director Sarah Gersten. “The Cannabis Justice Initiative will allow Last Prisoner Project and NACDL to scale our efforts to repair these harms by providing the broadest possible relief to individuals senselessly burdened by cannabis-related convictions.”

“NACDL has long called for an end to the so-called ‘War on Drugs’,” said NACDL President Chris Adams. “The damage wrought by decades of treating drug use and abuse as a criminal legal system matter rather than as a public health matter is immeasurable—lives, families, communities, all destroyed. This initiative will help right at least some of those wrongs.”

As it stands, the only legal avenues available to those left languishing in our nation’s prisons and under the yoke of cannabis-related collateral consequences are forms of back-end relief. To that end, Last Prisoner Project and NACDL’s Cannabis Justice Initiative is focused on facilitating clemency, compassionate release, expungement, and broad policy reform on the local, state, tribal and federal level. Clemency is an application to the executive authority for a commutation of a sentence or a pardon. Compassionate release may be obtained via an application to prison authorities or, where statutorily authorized, via a motion to the court in which the sentence was imposed. And expungement is the process of sealing or erasing criminal convictions in the eyes of the court.

The Cannabis Justice Initiative will recruit, train, and support volunteer attorneys to assist individuals seeking clemency and compassionate release as well as providing infrastructural support for local groups assisting on expungement of those suffering continued punishment for past cannabis convictions. The initiative will also advocate for continued reform of criminal drug laws, including legislative provisions that allow for the expansive and standardized expungement of cannabis-related criminal records. NACDL and Last Prisoner Project are hopeful that their Cannabis Justice Initiative will make great strides in creating a world where no one continues to serve time for, or remain burdened by the collateral consequences of, a past cannabis conviction.

If you are interested in serving as a volunteer, or pro bono, attorney for the Cannabis Justice Initiative, please visit

The Cannabis Justice Initiative, a joint project of the Last Prisoner Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, will enhance NACDL’s Return to Freedom Project, a series of programs designed to provide pro bono representation for those seeking relief from harsh sentences and the collateral consequences of convictions. NACDL’s Return to Freedom Project is led by NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer and Project Manager Steven Logan.


NACDL Media Contact

Ivan Dominguez, NACDL Senior Director of Public Affairs and Communications, (202) 465-7662 or

Last Prisoner Project Media Contacts

Linda Carbone & Katie Leggett, Press Here Publicity,;

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.

The Last Prisoner Project (LPP) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to cannabis-related criminal justice reform. As the United States moves away from the criminalization of cannabis, giving rise to a major new industry, there remains the fundamental injustice inflicted upon those who have suffered under America's unjust and inequitable policy of cannabis prohibition. The Last Prisoner Project works to redress the past and continuing harms of these inhumane and ineffective laws through legal intervention, public awareness, and legislative advocacy. Visit to learn more.

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