Several prominent hip hop stars as well as cannabis and criminal justice activists have banded together to support Atlanta rapper Terrell Davis, professionally known as Ralo, who is currently in jail for cannabis trafficking charges. Organized by cannabis clemency activist group Mission Green, the consortium has sent a letter to President Biden advocating for the release of Ralo and other incarcerated on cannabis-related charges.
“On behalf of Terrell Davis and his family, we strongly urge you to grant clemency for Mr. Davis, who is serving federal time for non-violent marijuana offense,” the letter reads. “The undersigned— musicians, actors, athletes, filmmakers, current and former elected and appointed government officials, advocates, and business leaders—strongly believe that justice necessitates the exercise of clemency in this case. Our nation’s view of cannabis has evolved, and it is indefensible to incarcerate citizens based on the unduly harsh attitudes of past generations,” the letter continues.
Specifically, signatories include Grammy-winning hip hop artist and actor Drake, hip hop artist and activist Killer Mike, NFL Hall-of-Famer and Super Bowl champion Deion Sanders, NBA All-Star John Wall, hip hop artist and criminal justice advocate Meek Mill, NFL player Julio Jones, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas Barry Grissom, hip hop artist and Grammy winner T.I., Indiana state senator Eddie Melton (D-IN), criminal justice activist Alice Johnson, and many others. Others in the hip hop community who have signed on include recording artists 2 Chainz, Freeway, Loon, Lil’ Yachty, Waka Flocka, Baby Bash, and others.
“How is it ok for a white man in Oregon, Nevada, or Colorado to grow, smoke, and profit millions from marijuana but a young black man from the Westside of Atlanta who’s been nothing less than a service and a pillar to his community can be jailed and taken away from his family for allegedly doing the same thing?” says rap artist T.I.
Including and centering the hip hop community in cannabis and criminal justice advocacy is necessary, says Mission Green founder, hip hop producer, and pardon recipient Weldon Angelos.
“I give hip hop credit for normalizing cannabis use,” says Angelos. “Hip hop has normalized it to the extent that it can legalize. I think hip hop has done more for this effort than any other group. It’s a powerful force—going back to Tupac, B.I.G.—everyone that was just talking about smoking, they normalized it. It became cool. This is a big part of legalization,” he says of hip hop’s contributions to cannabis culture and policy change.
Ralo has been imprisoned for nearly three years in connection to a 2018 drug case, in which he was charged with two federal counts of possession with intent to distribute marijuana after 444 pounds of weed were found on a private plane. He is currently incarcerated at the Clayton County Detention Center in Ashland, Ala. and faces up to 8 years in federal prison on conspiracy charges.
“I have been in state prison on several occasions and I’ve been to county jail. I was able to feel their pain,” Ralo says in a phone interview from prison about others who are incarcerated on cannabis charges. He explains that he was oblivious to the various activities that, when combined in the eyes of a judge, can get you extra time “just like that,” Ralo says. Specifically, he is referring to mandatory minimums and other sentencing conventions that add significant time when combined with other charges, like guns, even if they weren’t material to the alleged crime committed.
If we knew better, we do better,” Ralo says.
“A lot of people, like myself, suffer from a lack of knowledge. I never knew I could be facing this amount of time for marijuana. A lot of people come in here for things they done that they shoulda hidden or whatnot, and they just didn’t know. I hope the federal government changes they laws, of course, but if they don’t, our people need to know they laws, even if they terrible laws,” says Ralo.
“A lot of people don’t have a voice. The best thing to happen to my kind and all of us is that I will be able to speak out. And my voice is kinda loud. I hope that I can get pardoned and still advocate,” Ralo says of his future. He adds that speaking out is difficult for prisoners, who are subject to cell lockdowns and limited phone time each month.
Ralo also mentioned that this was the first time the rapper Drake, specifically, has lent his name to criminal justice initiatives.
“I’d like to thank him, in particular,” he says, also naming and thanking T.I. and Meek Mill. In addition to signing the letter, Drake recently shouted out Ralo on his track Lemon Pepper: “Real life, the whole Fam goons like Ralo/One truck in front of me, one behind me to follow,” the lines read, referring to Ralo’s crew.
The letter specifically brings to light President Biden’s own words, spoken during a November 2019 Democratic primary debate, during which he said, “I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period. And I think everyone – anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out.”
The letter comes at a relatively fortuitous time in the cannabis activism movement. Earlier this year, several people incarcerated on cannabis charges, like Michael Thompson, Corvain Cooper, Mission Green founder Weldon Angelos, and others were granted pardons or sentence commutations. Several states have enacted adult-use legalization, including New York, which is expected to blossom into a $2.5 billion legal cannabis market once it is up and running. Calls for clemency for those jailed on cannabis charges have proliferated alongside these legalization successes.
The letter points out that though many benefitted from clemency during the prior presidential administration under President Trump, many more were left out for reasons unknown, including notable cannabis prisoners like Luke Scarmazzo and Davis.
“While your predecessor commuted the sentences of over a dozen individuals who were serving lengthy prison sentences for marijuana, the vast majority of those serving time for marijuana in the federal system were left behind, including Mr. Davis, and public attention focused on the disparity between those deserving of presidential clemency and those who were wealthy or connected enough to lobby the White House,” the letter reads. “That form of clemency needs to be replaced with a principled, active, and meaningful program that better fits modern America.”
Below is the rest of the letter, including a full list of signatories.