Post - War on Cannabis:  Jason Ortiz and Craig Cesal on Social Equity, War On Drugs

Post - War on Cannabis: Jason Ortiz and Craig Cesal on Social Equity, War On Drugs

The Roller Circle on 27th Jan 2024

Note: This write-up is based on a recording. The tips and many quotes attributed to Jason J Ortiz in this write-up are based on statements sourced from Smoke Responsibly Social. 

September 26, 2023 Smoke Responsibly Social by Daily Roller hosted its first social event in collaboration with a publicly traded multi-state operating cannabis company - Ascend Wellness Holdings (AAWH (OTCMKTS)). The social was held at their Chicago- River North HQ office (giving tiny desk vibes). The social also gained support of Louisiana based BakPak Hemp Co. Cannabis enthusiasts of varying levels of experience from business owner, to new consumers were in attendance.

What are Jason's responsible consumption tips?

1. Educate the youth to be voice of reason: Jason had a unique tip geared at families, promoting responsible cannabis consumption by being able to explain cannabis usage in a way that connects with youth in our own family. 

The goal is to equip teens to be capable of saying at the right moments, "I think we are having too much", or "this method is different than you think it is and may have a different effect", or "maybe we should test our drugs." 

The far reaching potential of equipping the youth in this way means they are better able to save themselves plus the communities they call home from "difficult situations". 

So, per Jason responsible cannabis use is also thinking about how we discuss usage with our family units and peers. 

Jason clarified, the youth in our families are exposed to drug use and explicit content through main stream popular media(movies, music, art, etc.) and the danger of not educating them ourselves is "they will be educated by the tv". 

2. "Start low and go slow" : Be mindful of the levels of THC and cannabinoids you are consuming. He believes, "5 mg of an edible is a good test case". 

3. Understand current testing standards for flower make it difficult to understand the best amount of cannabis flower to consume. 

4. "Become experts on endocannabinoid system and your own body" : Do research to understand your own tolerance, including talk to friends about their experiences. 

5. Try one consumption method at a time: so you know what is effecting you and how. 

6. Take it easy when you first start: with cannabis you won't get physically hurt but can have a bad time. Even if you consume regularly you can consume too much. 

7. "Know yourself": Physiology can influence THC interaction with body ability to create homeostasis, no one answer fits all. Share your experiences with others around you. 

8. Be capable of expressing what responsible use is so you can teach and train others how to have positive interactions with cannabis.

9. Cannabis 2.0: A lot of people are trying cannabis for the first time, or trying cannabis again after a long period of being abstinent, realize these people may need guidance in the new industry.

10. Be conscious of what you are doing.

Why was it important to discuss the war on drugs and cannabis social equity at Smoke Responsibly Social?


   Because 'social equity' is a concept used widely to described the process of integrating state legal and legacy cannabis markets into modern economies it was important to ask: is there progress in achieving social equity goals in the cannabis industry?  

Social equity incorporates elements of restorative criminal justice activity with social organizing for fair distributed policy outcomes. Social equity programs are usual hallmarks of state based cannabis legalization, and decriminalization initiatives. 

   At introduction most social equity promises are aimed at righting atrocities committed disproportionately to minority communities by way of the criminal justice system's selective enforcement of drug policy. Such atrocities include punitive sentencing, fractured families, and difficulties in economic mobility. 

   The war on drugs is a broad concept encompassing the socio-political agenda set off by Richard Nixon in the 1970s to depress recreational (and some could say therapeutic) use of drugs by citizens of the United States of America. War On Drugs grew beyond the USA and became an international complex of law enforcement, plus political agency corroboration, in administering lengthy and cruel sentences to individuals involved in drug trades. 

   Since cannabis inclusion in the Narcotics Control Act of 1956, then placement on the Schedule 1, persons involved in the cannabis trade to date have often had to deal with the consequences shaped by war on drug policies by governments plus law enforcement agencies.

   It is no secret to any politically informed millennial that federal arrests for cannabis have dropped drastically since the 1990's, but the harsh sentencing, and targeting of individuals by law enforcement for being involved in the cannabis trade has not ended. 

   In order to empower myself and others in creating a more equitable future in the cannabis industry it seemed necessary to have a social focused on defining cannabis social equity programs, their progress, and gaps in constituent wants remaining. 

   For comparative context of Illinois' social equity reality, I aimed to provide wider perspective on the subject by way of the experience of a highly qualified person active in shaping social equity policy across the United States of America. By offering a third party perspective I planned to make sure the conversation could be more robust. 

   Through the support of Jason Ortiz, Craig Cesal, and Claire Warne our September Smoke Responsibly Social offered an informed welcoming space to productively discuss the future of cannabis legalization and the history of the war on drugs.

Are people still arrested and sentenced to life for cannabis in the United States?

   Jason mentioned at the time of our September social there were over 3,000 federal cannabis prisoners. Months prior to socializing with us Student For Sensible Drug Policy, Last Prisoner Prisoner Project, Craig Cesal, and other held a protest in Washington D.C. demanding more pardon activity from President Joe Biden. 

   Craig Cesal was arrested in 2002 for allegedly leasing vehicles to cannabis smugglers from Mexico. A couple vehicles he had previously fixed were stopped at the border and the individuals implicated Craig as part of the operation.

   Though Craig was never caught red handed engaging in the activity he was accused of, and never committed a violent crime, he was still sentenced to a life sentence. In 2003 Mr. Cesal plead guilty to his charges and  was "convicted of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute at least 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A)(vii)." (

   Craig served over 19 years for his charges, that is more time served than the average murderer serves in the United States.

   As Jason and Craig both mentioned: Joe Biden in some ways is directly responsible for the imprisonment of several cannabis prisoners due to the policies he supported through out his career. Now as President he has the special opportunity to right the impact of his actions by freeing individuals effected by his work.

What are the Key Initiatives for Achieving Cannabis Social Equity in Today's Legal Landscape?

   Jason and Craig both suggested political activism and social support for individuals still facing the harsh punishments being administered during this time of changing tides for cannabis. Legal support for people currently incarcerated -helping them get free, donate funds to commissary for cannabis prisoners, support the families on the outside of prison that have family inside of prison, and comprehensive criminal justice policy reformation.

   Jason opened up by sharing how his encounter with the law at the age of 16 for possessing cannabis inspired a lifetime of activism. As he recounted to attendees, after his arrest he became aware of "the war on drugs, school to prison pipeline, and selective enforcement". 

   Beyond introducing Ortiz to these concepts his arrests also made him the benefactor of early drug reformation activists who were successful in getting changes to the Higher Education Act Federal Aid Elimination Penalty.

Side note: Funny enough I discovered the revised version of the 'Federal Aid Elimination Penalty' reading through my financial aid documents in college, and the penalty for individuals currently receiving aid influenced how I decided to maneuver through college supporting myself and developing Daily Roller.

   Jason mentioned what has set his social equity pursuit apart from others is he chooses to focus on criminal justice rather than race based impact of the war on drugs. In large part that is because he was impacted most by the criminal justice consequences of being arrested as a teen for cannabis possession.

 Key initiatives for achieving social equity in today's legal landscape include demanding greater government spending transparency when it comes to funds generated by taxes from cannabis. In Illinois they have the Restore, Reinvest, and Renew (R3) Program.

 Also dismantling the school to prison pipeline that persists in many minority communities.

   Craig stressed the importance of making sure that neighborhoods like Chicago's Englewood don't get left out of the accepted economic benefits of the legal cannabis industry.


How did Jason get started in cannabis advocacy and activism?

   Jason's work at Murder Victims' Families For Reconciliation led to discovering the importance of politically effective communication in progressing social agendas.

As he explained early in the social, in politics the matter is often of competing interests and to make change in the space one must be capable of sharing their personal story/perspective in a compelling manner that motivates individuals to take action. 

   Having developed the skillsets of high emotional intelligence paired with a victim centered trauma informed approach to communication Jason is able to help others communicate their experience from an empowered position, to accomplish significant change socially and politically.

  Jason admits he uses these skills for himself, too, when he is lobbying. A good example is  when faced with the challenge of getting social equity legislation passed in his home state of Connecticut. 

  Then Governor Ned Lamont was holding out on including criminal justice language as part of the state's cannabis social equity program. 

   Without including criminal justice as part of the resolution of the damage caused by the war on drugs it would mean that people who had been charged or incarcerated in the past for cannabis would not be able to receive positive benefit from the legalizing cannabis industry. 

   This was out of the question for Jason -especially as someone who was part of the Governor's taskforce rolling out cannabis legislation in the state of Connecticut, and having been impacted by criminal justice personally. 

   Ultimately Jason ended up putting together his own coalition that produced Connecticut House Bill 6377.

   Jason had to testify before Connecticut's Labor and Public Employees Committee during the process of getting HB 6377 passed. He credits his experience at MVFR as playing a huge role in helping him come from a place of empowerment.. 

   The Connecticut legalization moment also reinforced the importance of public engagement in the legislative process so it's not one person standing alone, but a collective together working to correct their government. 

  Along the process of fighting for an equitable cannabis industry in Connecticut Shaleen Title from Massachusetts, Co-Founder of Minority Cannabis Business Association, asked Jason to join MCBA which he did as a co-founder. By doing this Jason extended the reach of his work.

   Instead of creating "vent" sessions, Jason and his co-founders of Minority Cannabis Business Association organized policy session where they collaborated with stakeholders across the United States to envision the sort of policy they would want to draft as Governors, and individuals actively participating in the industry. 

  Through this process he secured relationships with key players in the cannabis and criminal justice reformation movement able to provide credible testimonies for legislatures, as well as help in the process of drafting laws. Because Jason's work is national he is able to help shape and support social equity initiatives across the United States, and beyond.

How can I play a part in resolving the wrongs from the war on cannabis?

   Unite with others that share your passion for cannabis. Learn how to persuade people to join our side. "We cannot shame our way into building a movement," Jason explained.

   Operate from a place of compassion, consider what sort of experience individuals who have never interacted with cannabis may be experiencing now seeing major social change towards the plant that was forbidden for so long to many. 

   Understand some people may have very negative and aggressive views towards cannabis prohibition, but these individuals still need to be welcomed and heard by our community.

   Craig shared with attendees an easy way to play a part can be as simple as writing a letter of encouragement to cannabis prisoners, or supporting an organization like the Second Chance Foundation by donating to them. 

   Second Chance Foundation works directly with cannabis prisoners still facing life in prison, through legal representation plus re-entry to society once pardon is secured.

  Mr. Cesal  illuminated the paradox of current cannabis legalization efforts by stating the cannabis industry can not be built only to benefit rich white guys. He believes there should be more access to the legal cannabis market especially for those communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

  Craig asked for the attendees to maintain an awareness of the fact that cannabis is still federally illegal. Politicians can do more to alleviate the condition of prisoners.

  Freeing cannabis prisoners doesn't seem unreasonable when considering the enormous amount of wealth being generated daily in state based legal cannabis markets, Craig suggested.

  Even with markets legalizing there are communities being left out of the equation, reinforcing the inequities created by the war on drugs. The only solution to ending this for Craig is through individuals mobilization in pushing politicians to take corrective action.

   Community Outreach Director Claire Warne discussed a way her organization is working to be more effective in progressing social equity is by reviewing current standing relationships, and onboarding new partnerships that have a reputation for success.

  Ms. Warne was also able to share a story involving cannabis corporation employees being targeted  by law enforcement agencies due to misunderstanding in law and ability to distinguish between marijuana vs. hemp. 

   A sad part of the story is that the person may be disqualified from a future job in cannabis depending on the results of their case, and due to how state laws are written to exclude individuals with a criminal record from involvement in the retail/operation side of cannabis.

   So in short, decide to be an ally. Start with what is comfortable to with you. 

   Opportunities range from writing letters to inmates, to joining a cannabis non-profit focused on addressing specific social issues important to you. If you are interested in writing a letter to a cannabis prisoner give Last Prisoner a follow, they often share information and coordinate moments for community members to pen a prisoner (or key politician).

  Also work to understand where your states' legal program may be underserving certain populations who can really benefit from cannabis medicine and get active on demanding access in places of cannabis dispensary deserts.

What is the goal of Smoke Responsibly Social?

   Smoke Responsibly Socials are a series of guided conversations and consumption friendly events promoting safe and responsible consumption. These socials are meant to bring people together for socializing, thought exchange, and finding common ground.

  Our goal is to maintain a welcoming space for the gathering of an informed and personally empowered community. September 2023 Smoke Responsibly Social with Jason and Craig was the 7th of 9 programmed Special Guest guided conversations intended to help develop a foundational to intermediate understanding of the current state of cannabis in the United States. 

  Our goal is to leave attendees with practical tips and tricks that improve positive interactions with cannabis and can implement in their own daily life to empower them to continue making the best decision for their unique lifestyle.

Additional Reading Resources:

CT HB6377 Testimony by Jason Ortiz:

Students For Sensible Drug Policy:

Join The Minority Cannabis Business Association:

Last Prisoner Project:

Definition of War On Drugs:

What is the school to prison pipeline?

How do I know if I have been impacted by selective enforcement?

Simple Possession of Marijuana Stats and report by US Sentencing Commission:

Higher Education Act Federal Aid Elimination Penalty:

the `Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act of 2002:

Murder Victims Families For Reconciliation:

Craig Cesal v. USA, No. 19-15033 (11th Cir. 2022):

Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2023:

Prohibited acts A21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(b)(1)(A)(vii):

Daily Roller Magazine Volume 001