Wershe launches cannabis brand with a focus on social justice

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Richard Wershe Jr. enters the cannabis industry with plans to promote social justice with his new business.

Wershe, a former FBI and Detroit Police Department informant known as “White Boy Rick,” famously spent more than three decades behind bars on a nonviolent drug offense after being convicted in Wayne County Circuit Court in 1988. Wershe, 52, reportedly serving the longest sentence he began as a teenager for a non-violent drug offense. After 32 years and seven months, he was released from prison last year.

Wershe is now partnering with cannabis company Pleasantrees to launch its own brand of product called “The 8th,” a reference to the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments on defendants.

Wershe’s cannabis brand, which includes cannabis plants, t-shirts, concentrates, and other products, is expected to launch this fall. The black t-shirts will feature two broken handcuffs and the words “White Boy Rick” on the front.

This is because Eminem Wershe is slated to portray 50 Cent in an upcoming Starz television series by rapper. Wershe’s life has also been the focus of books, films, and a Hollywood film starring Matthew McConaughey.

From left, Evan Williams, Jerome Crawford, Director of Legal Operations and Social Equity for cannabis company Pleasantrees, and Rick Wershe in the drying room of the company's Harrison Township facility on Wednesday, September 1, 2021.

Wershe says he hopes to raise awareness of the harshness of the penalties for nonviolent drug offenses and to use a significant portion of his proceeds to help people wrongly convicted and imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses.

“It’s about being overpunished,” said Wershe. “How is it that a non-violent offender is punished more severely than a violent offender?

He said he chose to partner with Pleasantrees because he liked the company’s social justice and social justice program. The company provides jobs to those recently released from prison for wrongly convictions or excessive sentences.

Rick Wershe aka

“Mr Wershe was recently released from prison after serving over 32 years for non-violent drug offenses allegedly committed as a minor – a prime example of the inappropriately harsh sentences imposed on victims of the decades-long war on drugs, which was started by the Nixon administration and escalated further in the Reagan era, “Pleasantrees representatives said in a statement accompanying the announcement of the partnership.

Lawyer Jerome Crawford, director of legal affairs and social justice for Pleasantrees, said Wershe was the “flagship” of excessive, cruel and unusual punishment.

“He is a walking example of cruel and unusual sentences that put a minor behind bars for three decades of his life for a non-violent drug crime,” Crawford said. “He can give voice to the voiceless. Having him on our team is really an expression of our plan for social justice.”

One of the people Wershe wants to help is Rudi Gammo, 42, who was sentenced to five and a half years in prison in Oakland County in 2018. He owned a medical marijuana dispensary in Detroit but was charged with growing marijuana at his Oakland County homes.

Rick Wershe in the Pleasantrees Nursery in Harrison Township on Wednesday September 1, 2021. Wershe is partnering with the company and launching its own product brand.

Wershe attended a rally in Oakland County Circuit Court Wednesday to urge a judge to release Gammo.

“That’s what we’re doing,” Wershe said of his efforts to help Gammo. “That’s what this brand is about.”

Gammo’s attorney Barton Morris Jr. said that for several years unlicensed and unregulated “gray market” products were grown by nurses and sold by hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan. Morris added that prior to 2018, when state voters approved an initiative for adult recreational marijuana use, “it was the only way to operate and was approved by most communities”.

“Rudi was convicted of something that became legal a few months later when the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (MRTMA) went into effect in November 2018, which enables thousands of Michiganers to eradicate many marijuana misdemeanors and crimes, he remains still behind bars, “Morris, principal attorney and founder of the Cannabis Legal Group, said in a statement.

Rick Wershe in the Pleasantrees Flower Room in Harrison Township on Wednesday September 1, 2021. Wershe partners with the company and launches its own product brand.

Morris said Gammo, located in the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian, is one of the “most prominent” examples of the need for a restorative criminal justice system in Michigan.

Recreational use of cannabis was legalized in Michigan in 2018. The law allows anyone over the age of 21 to own 2½ ounces of cannabis. Medical marijuana became legal in the state in 2008.

Pleasantrees, based in Harrison Township, which operates in Michigan and Massachusetts, said it is one of Michigan’s largest wholesalers of medicinal and recreational cannabis. The company has three recreational cannabis retail stores in Hamtramck, East Lansing, and Denton Township in Roscommon Counties.

Pleasantrees also has two cultivation facilities in Harrison Township. The company has opened its first retail location in Easthampton, Massachusetts and plans to expand into Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Wershe said in a lawsuit he filed against the city of Detroit, Detroit police officers and FBI agents in July that he was first approached by FBI agents at the age of 14, before being sent to life imprisonment at age 17 was sentenced without parole for dispensing more than 650 grams of a controlled substance.

Wershe’s verdict was later changed to life parole, and in 2017 the Michigan Parole Board unanimously granted Wershe parole. Documents received by The Detroit News after Wershe’s parole indicated that his remorse and good behavior played a role in the board’s decision.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com