A company backed by reggae artist and cannabis activist Damian Marley is moving pot by the pounds out of what used to be one of California's oldest prisons.
You’re unlikely to find a starker display of the inequities of prohibition as a prison turned legal cannabis farm — and that’s just what you’ll come across if you head to Coalinga, California. In 2016, the Dalton siblings, owners of Ocean Grown Extracts, purchased a 20-acre property containing a shuttered state prison in the Central Valley town. Today, they use the land to cultivate and process sun-grown legal cannabis for Ocean Grown’s weed brand Evidence. Employees manufacture gummies in the former prison’s kitchen, and even roll joints in the facility’s mess hall, according to recent coverage by NBC News.
The weird optics are the point: Evidence’s basic premise is to expose the hypocrisy of locking some individuals up for selling the very herb on which corporate executives are now making bank.
“We’re moving thousands of pounds of flower now, and I’m going to go home to my family tonight,” owner Dan Dalton commented. “You know … there are people sitting in jail cells right now for personal possession of flower. And the hypocrisy makes no sense to me.”
“I don’t know how [people incarcerated on cannabis charges] would feel,” Dalton continued, talking about potential reactions to the project. “I think they would probably have mixed emotions about what we’re doing here.”
Some former cannabis prisoners have actually signed on to the Evidence project: The brand’s head grower has spent time in jail due to cannabis possession.
The company is high-profile, largely due to the member of marijuana royalty who counts as one of its partners, Damian Marley. In 2021, Rolling Stone ran an article on the debut of the Evidence brand, which came paired with a similarly-titled video with interviews and spoken word touching on the War on Drugs, set to a Stephen Marley track. Evidence sells its products in packaging regarding police department evidence bags, and one dollar of every sale goes to cannabis justice non-profit The Last Prisoner Project.
“Evidence is unlike any other cannabis brand in that it’s an unapologetic disruptor that forces people to take a hard look at where we have been as a country and initiates the conversation on where we need to go,” commented Dalton upon the line’s launch.
According to a 2018 article in The Nation, Coalinga was considering banning marijuana cultivation within city limits when Ocean Grown Extracts offered to buy the property on which the former Claremont Custody Center sits. At what might have been the most-attended City Council meeting in the town’s history, cash-strapped Coalinga decided to acquiesce and accept the offer, despite its conservative leanings. The city’s $3.4 million debt shook hands with the weed brand’s $4.1 million property payment, and Coalinga shortly thereafter parceled out 12 more cannabis business licenses.
Believe it or not, this is not the only ex-carceral facility to be reappropriated to house legal weed operations. In New York’s Hudson Valley, Green Thumb Industries has taken over 38 acres of the grounds of the former Mid-Orange Correctional Facility. The massive firm, valued at some $6.4 billion, snagged formidable state tax subsidies to get the project off the ground, raising the hackles of some of the state’s smaller cannabis producers who are looking to get a toehold in the nascent recreational industry.