Cannabis is everywhere these days, from gyms to women-only weed retreats. It’s increasingly in everything, too: cotton candy, ice cream, lotion, and aphrodisiac oils. The herb, now legal in eight states (and D.C.), is so hot right now that the New York Times Style section tweeted, “What *can’t* you do with pot?”
The answer: “Be a black person with it,” says social engineer and inventor Kortney Ryan Ziegler.
Ziegler is right. Although white and black people use weed at nearly identical rates, black people are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession, as Fast Company reported. Even in states where weed is legal for recreational use, like Colorado, arrest rates have dropped much faster for whites than other communities.
But Ziegler is doing more than tweet the uncomfortable truth–he’s taking action to help tackle both the industrial prison complex and the structural racism that’s pervasive across the United States. In November 2017, he launched Appolition, a completely self-funded crowdfunding app. It links to your bank account and rounds your credit and debit card purchases to donate your spare change to bail money to free black people awaiting trial.
He was inspired not only by his own experiences, having a parent who’s incarcerated, but also by Mama’s Bail Out Day: “I saw that they raised almost $1 million and it was the first time I’d seen this public excitement around crowdfunding for black folks,” Ziegler told Fast Company in a phone interview.
As word spread on social media, people, “mostly young black folks,” signed up for Appolition by the hundreds.
Once users collect 50 cents worth of change, it’s automatically transferred to National Bail Out, a collection of organizations that focus their efforts around bail relief and reform, paid for by the nonprofit Color of Change and the Movement for Black Lives coalition.
While the microdonation project is still in its early days, Appolition has already garnered support from grassroots activists, celebrities, and even people who’ve never used crowdfunding platforms before. It’s changing lives, too.
The site’s 7,000 users have raised over $35,000 to help free 11 people since November. Ziegler says the site adds 200 new users a day. That’s significant, because every day almost a quarter-million men and women arrested for minor offenses like loitering or drug possession remain behind bars awaiting trial despite the fact they’re still innocent in the eyes of the law–simply because they are unable to make bail.
That trial may take months or years to happen, if it happens it all. And since around 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, most arrestees are unable to make bail set at a few hundred dollars. Coming up with the $10,000 for a felony is unthinkable–and defendants in jail stand a much worse chance of winning their case.
“We’re really excited to keep onboarding people and generating enough bail money to get people home as quickly as possible–so people can keep their jobs, keep their families, and have a semblance of normal life,” he says.
Appolition, Ziegler says, “was designed and built with black Americans in mind,” but the tech founder sees the potential for his platform to help people of all races, colors, and creeds–especially in his home state of California, where nearly 500,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in the last decade. The same ballot initiative that, as of January 1, made the Golden State the world’s largest recreational cannabis market also allows residents to petition courts to change felony pot-related convictions to misdemeanors, as well as wipe away convictions for possessing or growing small amounts of weed.
“One of the things that we want to do with Appolition in 2018 is to help people–black or otherwise–crowdfund the $500 to file their petitions and have cannabis-related charges removed from their record,” Ziegler says. “Folks can have amnesty, and people who are currently in jail can possibly get out, so that’s really cool.”