The first time Miss Grass crossed paths with Kyle Page, a Cultivation Technician at Ascend Wellness who spent a total of 8 ½ years in prison for cannabis-related offenses, he was speaking at a Blaze Responsibly™ expungement event in New Jersey. So after budding up and hearing about his life, it was time for a Mini Moment to talk more about Jersey, his journey in the war on weed, what he's up to now, and his pursuit of all weed wisdom.
MG: Tell us a little bit about where you grew up.
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. I lived there till I was about 12, and then I moved to a town in New Jersey. Now because I lived in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, which is predominantly African American, and then I moved to Fairlawn, New Jersey, which is predominantly Jewish and Italian, it was definitely a getting used to moment, a culture shock, but it was actually one of the best things that happened to me in my life.
MG: When did your relationship with cannabis start?
I didn't truly start to smoke until I was about 16 years old. That's when I was more away from my mom and dad, out doing my own things, exploring my freedom, becoming a mature person.
“I was skateboarding. I was smoking weed. That whole 90s grunge era thing.”
MG: Do you still listen to grunge when you smoke?
Actually my favorite song to smoke to is not a 90s grunge song. My favorite is going to be “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. When it comes to 90s grunge: Gin Blossoms, Stone Temple Pilots, of course Nirvana. I mean, you can't go wrong with Nirvana. I love all of that old school.
MG: So New Jersey had one of the most disproportionate weed-related arrests of Black people in the country. Did you feel unfairly targeted?
Absolutely. Living in Fairlawn, I thought it was a positive experience, but at the same time I did experience a lot of racism. I was one of maybe six or seven Black people in the entire town that went to my school. And I'm a very out-there person. I was a very mischievous kid, not bad mischievous, not bringing guns to school or anything like that, but I was a kid that would put his underwear outside his pants and nunchuck on the lunch table. I would get suspended for stuff like that foolishness.
The cops knew well that I smoked weed. All the other guys that were around were white kids. I hate to pull the race card. I try to leave that out of my story, but at the same time it's a big part of my story because they didn't get so messed around. I did. They put me in prison for 2 1/2 years.
MG: What went through your mind being 18 and getting sent to prison?
When I went to prison the first time for weed I had 13 bags of schwag, like terrible dirt. This is what we smoked back in the day. Back in those times, if you were in the school zone, it was an 18 month stipulation in prison. I was 18 years old. I didn't have any other adult record, and they put me in prison. I did two and half years in prison.
I'm a small guy. Back then I was an even smaller guy, five foot five, 130 pounds, and going to prison. New Jersey sent me to a really hardcore prison. Like holy crap, I was really, really scared. It's survival in there. It's either fight or flight, so I learned how to survive. Not so much for being tough or anything like that, it was more using my intelligence and the way I can move on different crowds to navigate and manipulate certain situations.
MG: What did you do when you got out?
When I got out of prison, I didn't feel comfortable in that town anymore. I felt they were going to continue targeting me, so I moved to the next town over, which is a really, really rough city. It's a crime ridden city. I got involved with some things—not just cannabis, other things.
“At the time, I felt like there was no hope because I would try to get jobs and I couldn't get certain jobs because I had this felony on my record for cannabis. I couldn't get certain apartments because I had my record. So I felt stuck in this environment.”
The positive Kyle that you hear right now wasn't there. It was Kyle who was always saying, “I'm never going to be anything. I'm just a felon. I have a record. Nothing really matters.” I went through this dark phase of my life.
Luckily the universe smacked me in the face and said, “Hey bro, wake up.” I got up out of there and moved to Kansas City. I was working at Applebee's. Everything was great. I met these people and they were like, “Hey, I know a grower in California that's looking for trimmers. Would you like to go?” We went out there, but when we got there the growers already had people. We ended up meeting other growers there at a gas station because up in that area in California everybody grows weed everywhere.
MG: How was it getting back into something that you just went to prison for?
We were there working, and it’s a dream come true. When we went back to Kansas, the brothers [who ran the farm] contacted me and they asked, “Hey, were you still trying to maybe move some stuff for us?” I was like, “Well, I don't have the money to buy anything like that.” And he's like “No, no, no, you don't have to buy. We will front you a certain amount.” Automatically, my brain goes back to the streets—like this is a good opportunity. I ended up getting 15 pounds the first time and moving that 15 pounds in one day to someone I knew in Kansas City. They loved it. We went back to California and worked out a deal.
MG: Is that how you started developing a deeper understanding of the plant?
“I know certain people will hear this and be like, well you were just a trafficker, you were just a drug dealer. Well, it was more than that because I was getting education on things.”
Every time I’d go out there, I was getting more and more education. They were teaching me things about internodes, about being able to spot mildew or to spot different pests, and what the beneficial pests were.
MG: But the dream didn’t last, right?
I was only selling to a few select people who can take 50 pounds of high grade weed at a time. We weren’t gangbanging. We weren't packing guns. This wasn't anything like that. This was a cannabis business. Sure, it was on the illicit market, but it was a cannabis business. Everybody was on the up and up.
What happened? I ran a music studio out of my house. Someone got word there was good weed around, and one of the guys asked me if I could hook him up with some. I tried to deny everything, but he knew it was happening. Then he got into trouble for something and gave our information up.
The police watched us for about six months, but still couldn't really figure out exactly what we were doing. They claim they found a grinder full of weed in the garbage—we all know that no pothead throws out their grinder—with a picture of me and my girlfriend with cocaine on the table. Turned out not to be me. It was her ex-boyfriend who looked nothing like me. That was their reason for running up in the house. We had 72 pounds and about $57,000 cash. They took everything.
MG: What happened next?
They offered me 20 years in prison. My lawyer said he needed to humanize me to the prosecutor. That was the scariest thing when he was sitting across from me and I'm sitting in that county jail. I said, “What do you mean ‘humanize?’ Doesn't he know that he's dealing with human beings?” My lawyer said, “No, you're just a number to them. You're just another case.”
What about my family? You're not just locking me up. Think about what you're taking away from my daughter. I'm sure there's other ways that we can handle this situation. I understand what I did was wrong, but could there be some type of probationary thing or maybe just two years in prison and then a whole bunch of probation, so I can show you that I am an upstanding citizen?
Luckily, my lawyer was able to get it down to 82 months. I was crushed at the time. I lost everything. I lost my wife. My businesses went down. I lost my house. I even lost my dog. I lost absolutely everything. You know how many times I called my mother crying over the phone?
“My entire life was crumbling around me. I'm sitting in a county jail in Kansas and in the next state over people are making millions of dollars, but they're telling me the rest of my life will be in prison. This is what I was fighting.”
MG: When you got out, how was it seeing your daughter again?
When I first came home, I really didn't know who she was because she was now a woman. She's 18 years old. She's out of high school. She was going to school at Virginia State University. I had to learn she wasn't the 12 year old that I knew. I had to respect who she was as a person now. But our relationship is pretty good. We're very open with each other. She always asks me hard questions. She asked me one time recently, “If you loved me at the time, then why did you risk your freedom to do the stuff that you did?” How do I answer that? It wasn't that I didn't love you. How's that answer sound? Like I didn't think about that.
MG: How did you hear about expungements to clear your record?
Donte Westmoreland was the guy from Last Prisoner Project who I was incarcerated with that reached back in and got me out. He'd been dealing with Chirali Patel. She had been helping him, directing him along. I didn't know who she was. It's a funny thing because I went to this New Jersey reentry event about getting your record expunged for cannabis problems. I showed up. She told me to contact her. A lot of people say things, so I was like yeah whatever this woman isn’t going to help me.
One day [Donte and I] met up in Jersey City. He's like, I want you to meet this lawyer, Chirali Patel. When I met her, she looked at me and said, “I know you. You were at a reentry event. Why didn't you contact me?” Well, I didn't think that you’d even come.
Since then, she's become like a sister to me, and she's been helping me navigate this cannabis industry. She told me to apply for Ascend. She's the one who told me they are about the Last Prisoner Project. They support that. She told me to apply with them, let them know my background, and how much experience I have in cannabis throughout California working on indoor and outdoor grows. They hired me immediately on the spot.
MG: Do you have any advice for people who are also looking for a fresh start?
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give people is to attend these events. These are the places where you meet people who are willing to really get out there and talk to people like myself. They're not looking down at me or judging me for my past. They're really giving me a chance, and I think everybody out there has that same opportunity. People think you need to know so much about cannabis, but this is a new industry, so you can come in at the entry level, learn something, and build with the industry.
MG: Speaking of building, what’s next for Kyle?
My hope for Kyle is I would like to open up a craft room, a connoisseur room, which has a retail space and a consuming lounge. I want to grow the weed that everybody loves. I want to bring back that nostalgia of weed for people who really, really love it. That's my dream, honestly.
MG: And anything you want to tell the world while you have the mic?
The war on cannabis, it was one of the ugliest things to happen because they disproportionately targeted minorities for this. Meanwhile, we all know that caucasians smoke just as much as Black people and Hispanic people smoke. The difference is that our families were greatly impacted by this. They broke up my family, although my family stuck with me and we’re still here together. But how many people don't have that same support system? How many people don't have that positivity?
Everybody is a person of power because you can vote, you can voice your opinion. We are Americans. I think that as Americans, it's something that we need to do. It's a call to arms to help the people who have been attacked by these unfair laws. And I'm somebody who was attacked, but they weren't able to kill me. I'm here, I'm back and I'm fighting. I'm going to be a warrior with you for this industry, for people just like me.