Erik Murray, founder of Rose Mary Jane, in the company's adult-use cannabis shop at 327 St. John St. in Portland. (Courtesy Rose Mary Jane)
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So many adult-use cannabis shops have opened in Portland it can be hard to keep track of them all. At least 40 retail storefronts have applied to the city for licenses, and at least 13 are open for business.

Many of them are well-appointed and look not unlike high-end clothing retailers or wellness spas.

Bruce King of Maine Inside Out on Rose Mary Jane: “They’re trying to create equity across the board.” (Portland Phoenix/Sam Pfeifle)

Not many, though, have done their ribbon-cutting alongside both the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and social justice organizations like Maine Inside Out and Last Prisoner Project. 

When Rose Mary Jane opened at 327 St. John Street last Thursday, however, that’s just who showed up to demand a halt to the continuing war on drugs and amnesty for anyone who remains in prison for cannabis-related crimes. 

Bruce King, co-executive director of Maine Inside Out, which works particularly through art and theater with incarcerated youth to educate the public about the failure and cruelty of imprisonment, admitted his organization has been hesitant to partner with cannabis companies.

“The tipping point for us was understanding that there was a social mission attached to (Rose Mary Jane),” King said. “They’re trying to create equity across the board.”

One of the ways they’re doing that is by actively trying to hire the formerly incarcerated, especially those who served time for drugs. It’s a mission that’s close to the heart of Evelyn LaChapelle, social impact director for Rose Mary Jane.

In 2013, she was arrested for having money in her bank account that federal agents tied to a boyfriend’s marijuana distribution organization. She served 87 months in prison, despite no prior record, a 4-year-old daughter, and a white-collar job derived from her degree in business administration from Loyola Marymount College. 

Now she and Rose Mary Jane founder Erik Murray both work with the nonprofit Last Prisoner Project (she as community engagement manager, he as a board director) with a mission to not only achieve the release of the 40,000 people incarcerated nationwide for cannabis-related crimes, but also to expunge their records and find ways to get them restitution. 

Jeremy Hiltz, founder of Recovery Connection of Maine, said Rose Mary Jane reached out to collaborate with his organization before the company had any retail stores. (Portland Phoenix/Sam Pfeifle)

LaChapelle and Murray are from Oakland, California, where Rose Mary Jane is headquartered. They’ve sought to partner with local organizations like Maine Inside Out and Recovery Connections of Maine, which serves those struggling with substance use disorder, to advance their mission as they sell their weed. As a start, Rose Mary Jane is donating 10 percent of sales from their first 350 customers to Recovery Connections. 

“It’s super important that we find social justice initiatives wherever we’re operating that are already doing the work and support them,” LaChapelle said. “We’re not here to reinvent the wheel, but to support the folks who are already doing the work.”

King said doing so should be a moral imperative for all organizations making money in the cannabis trade while there are still people incarcerated for cannabis crimes. 

“We have fought incredibly hard to be where we are today, with marijuana legalized,” he said. “But the war on drugs is not over. … There are people who are still suffering behind bars. So to find an organization out here that’s doing the work, not just in stores, but also with their own initiatives, was incredibly powerful.

“We fought side by side to see this legalized and we put a call out to the entire marijuana industry to say, ‘This war isn’t over yet; please step up.’”

Jeremy Hiltz, Recovery Connections of Maine founder, said Rose Mary Jane reached out even before it had any open stores. “That was really impactful for me,” Hiltz said. “This is their mission, to help these folks coming out of incarceration, and we believe in expunging the records of folks who’ve been arrested for cannabis use now that it’s legal.”

Many people in recovery, he added, are held back by past infractions as they try to rebuild their lives. 

While Rose Mary Jane has been in operation for nearly three years trying to use the cannabis business to move social justice issues forward, LaChapelle said this is the company’s first storefront in the country because efforts in California have been stalled by seemingly endless red tape. 

“Maine,” she said, “was much more friendly in terms of getting our location open.”

Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].