In Kansas, Cannabis Remains Completely Illegal—And Kansans Are Paying The Price

Donte West holds a photo of former Lansing bunkmate, Antonio Wyatt. Photo by Annie Bolin.

Kansas is one of only four states where cannabis remains completely illegal and Kansans are paying the price for the lack of policy reform in the state. Antonio Wyatt is one person affected by the staunch state laws. What will it take to free him?

Just before the holidays last December, Antonio Wyatt learned that his petition for clemency had been denied by the Kansas Prisoner Review Board

Wyatt has already spent over six-and-a-half years in prison for possessing cannabis, a substance now legal in 24 states, three U.S. territories and D.C.—including Missouri and Colorado on either side of Kansas.

Now, Wyatt, a father of two, spends another year in prison, unable to watch his children grow. Wyatt was sentenced to 11 years after being pulled over in a traffic stop in Kansas with cannabis in his vehicle by Highway Patrol—a practice that a federal judge recently ruled violates the Fourth Amendment. This “two step” traffic stop refers to the practice of troopers taking a few steps away from the stopped vehicle before coming back to ask more questions. This was used to initiate a voluntary encounter with motorists—potentially leading them to offer incriminating information.


Antonio Wyatt has served over six years of an 11 year sentence for cannabis possession in Kansas. Photography provided.

In May of 2017, Wyatt was driving on I-70 from Colorado to his home state of Tennessee when an officer pulled him over during a traffic stop in Kansas and smelled marijuana in his vehicle. The officer then searched it and found eight pounds of cannabis.

Officer Nicholas Blake was parked in the median of I-70 when he saw Wyatt driving in the left-hand lane, citing “No other vehicles were near Wyatt’s car and nothing prevented Wyatt from driving in the right-hand lane,” according to the Kansas Court of Appeals court transcript, State v. Wyatt (2019). So, on that basis, Blake decided to conduct a traffic stop.

Blake testified that he smelled the faint odor of raw marijuana coming from inside Wyatt’s car. The district court found Wyatt guilty of marijuana possession with intent to distribute, failure to affix a drug tax stamp (even though marijuana is illegal in Kansas, possessing it does not exempt it from taxation) and possession of drug paraphernalia. Wyatt was convicted after a bench trial, and on February 16, 2018, was sentenced to 142 months—almost 12 years—in prison.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas found that the Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP) has a long history of unethical vehicle search procedures like the one Wyatt experienced. The U.S. District Court ruled that the KHP’s policies and practices violated the Fourth Amendment, saying the patrol “has waged war on motorists—especially out-of-state residents traveling between Colorado and Missouri on federal highway I-70 in Kansas,”⁣ who would be more likely to be in possession of marijuana across state lines.

The KHP has been consistently criticized for using its controversial “two-step” stop to gain entry into motorists’ vehicles in order to find illegal drugs. “Even though the law requires that consent be knowing, intelligent and voluntary, troopers don’t generally let such niceties stand in their way,” U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Vratil wrote in her decision. “For drivers who are not initially forthcoming with consent, troopers are trained to conclude the traffic stop, somehow signal that the driver is free to go, then immediately re-engage the driver in friendly, casual conversation to keep the driver at the scene and enable the trooper to develop reasonable suspicion or take another stab at getting consent.”

This lets the police officer search the motorists’ vehicle one way or another. If the driver refuses consent to search, the officer can search the vehicle on reasonable suspicion. Judge Vratil wrote: “The war is basically a question of numbers: stop enough cars and you’re bound to discover drugs. And what’s the harm if a few constitutional rights are trampled along the way?”

People with out-of-state license plates on I-70 headed to or returning from recreational marijuana states like Missouri and Colorado are frequently targeted by the KHP, including Wyatt. 

Wyatt continues to serve his sentence behind bars for cannabis, which is now legal for recreational use in half the country. Kansas is one of only four states where cannabis is fully illegal and criminalized. In the Last Prisoner Project’s “Cannabis Justice Report Card,” Kansas was given a “D-” grade for lacking legalization, resentencing and a pardon program. “Kansas falls behind and offers only a very narrow avenue for record clearance that fails to expedite cannabis offenses, therefore offering minimal and delayed relief for impacted individuals,” the report reads. 

A 2018 ACLU report showed Black people were 4.8 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people in Kansas, despite the fact that both races consume cannabis at about the same rate. Overall, Kansas ranks 12th in the U.S. for largest racial disparities for cannabis possession arrests. 

The extent to which racial bias affects those pulled over for traffic stops remains mostly uncertain because no statewide requirement exists for police to track the data. Individual cities and counties create their own policies, so it’s largely unknown just how vulnerable Black drivers are compared to others when getting pulled over.

The few reported statistics on traffic stops in Kansas follow a troubling pattern of racial discrimination, where Black motorists are disproportionately pulled over and, thus, given more punishments, especially for cannabis-related offenses. In Wichita, the police department gave 17.5% of its citations to Black people, but Black people only make up 10.3% of Wichita’s population. In Riley County, the police department gave 14% of its citations and warnings to Black people, but Riley County is only seven percent Black. In KCK and the majority of cities in Kansas, the police department doesn’t track any demographic data on arrests or traffic citations.

In Wyatt’s case, the U.S. District Court concluded that the traffic stop and search and seizure of the vehicle did not violate the Fourth Amendment (the “two-step” traffic stop wasn’t struck down until last year).

While incarcerated, Wyatt has taken classes and worked as a prison barber, which he is now licensed by the State of Tennessee to do. He has even been able to leave prison to share his story with at-risk youth. Nashville’s District 9 Metro Councilor Tonya Hancock has publicly supported Wyatt’s second chance and has offered him the opportunity to participate in the Nashville Police Department’s Citizen Academy upon release and return to his native Tennessee.

After Wyatt’s petition for clemency and release was denied late last year, lawyer Barry Grissom—who was the United States Attorney for the District of Kansas from 2010 to 2016—urges the review board to look at Wyatt as a whole person and consider what he can and would contribute to society if he were released: “He has had job offers with the Davidson County Police Academy. He has the support of his family, his church, and his local political leaders. He’s a master barber—everybody needs a haircut. He’s got a job,” Grissom says. “I hope that they see all those things and [look] through the lens that continued incarceration not only is a waste of Kansas taxpayer money but is a waste of human capital.”

In 2021, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly commuted the sentences of five incarcerated people and granted pardons to three others who she cited as “show[ing] strong signs of rehabilitation and the ability to safely re-enter society.” Wyatt was not on that list.

The Governor’s office held an exhaustive review of the over 200 applicants for clemency, and the decisions were made on who to commute or pardon after independent reviews were also done by the Prison Review Board, the Department of Administration and the Governor’s legal team. Because of so many variables and potential political implications, pardons don’t happen often, and the process is extremely thorough, with few actually becoming pardoned.

“Governor Kelly [gave out] a handful of pardons and commutations during her first term. That took real political courage, because typically people offer pardons on the last day of their administration as they’re going out the door,” Grissom says. “It takes courage for a politician to step in and to commute someone’s sentence.”

Kansas does have the 2022 Senate Bill No. 366, which offers an avenue for “record clearance that includes relief for non-violent cannabis offenses.” However, the policy was not written specifically for cannabis, and this means that cannabis offenses are not prioritized or guaranteed, making the process slow. 

Kansas is in a unique situation because the state has no eligibility criteria for pardons or commutations. This lack of criteria makes this a potential avenue for justice and relief for cannabis-related offenders. But as seen in Wyatt’s case, Kansas lawmakers’ attitudes towards marijuana-related offenses remain largely unchanged despite nearly 70% of Kansans supporting cannabis legalization, according to a statewide survey conducted by Fort Hays State University last year.

Wyatt’s story of unjust time served for cannabis possession in Kansas is not unique.

A Case Unfortunately Not Unique


Donte West holds a picture of former Lansing Correctional Facility bunkmate Antonio Wyatt. Photography by Annie Bolin.

One of Antonio Wyatt’s bunkmates in the Lansing, Kansas, prison was Donte West, née Westmoreland, who was 21 years old when he was pulled over while driving along I-70 visiting his friends at college in Manhattan, Kansas. Fortunately, West’s story has a positive ending.

In March of 2016, West was living in Stockton, California, and was on a road trip with friends in a two-person car convoy en route to Kansas. West had never had any brushes with the law before, but he was pulled over in Kansas on the basis of having an “obstructed license plate,” which was dirty from road debris. His friend, the driver, was ticketed for a small amount of marijuana that was found on the floorboard of the trunk.

“They took us out of the car, they searched it and they found a nug [of marijuana] in the trunk of the car with a Swisher wrapper,” West says. “They wrote the driver, Dashaun Perkins—my co-defendant at the time—a ticket, and they told us to go off at the gas station and clean our license plate off. So we went down and cleaned the license plate off. I went in the store and got a water and I glanced up and I saw a group of officers staring down at us. We’re like, ‘this is odd.’ But it’s our first time out of California, so maybe they’re just, like, very, very strict here. We saw an unmarked vehicle circling the gas station so we thought that was kind of alarming—this was a different level of harassment. But we hadn’t really been in trouble with the law before, so we proceeded on our way.”

Unbeknownst to the group, officer Nicholas Blake—the same officer who would go on to pull Antonio Wyatt over on the same interstate a year later—called Lieutenant Justin Stopper, saying he believed that the two cars driven by young men of color were a drug convoy from out-of-state delivering illegal substances into Kansas. The police let them go with just a ticket in order to follow them to what they believed was a bigger drug transaction.

Stopper believed the Hyundai that West was in was the decoy vehicle, while the Lexus was carrying the narcotics, and told Lieutenant Daryl Ascher of the Riley County Police Department of this suspicion. Working in plainclothes and driving an unmarked car, Ascher followed West and Perkins’ Hyundai to an apartment complex in Manhattan, Kansas.

West was waiting in his friend Jacob Gadwood’s apartment for the other car to arrive before going to check in to a nearby hotel. The rest of the group from the second car—the Lexus—entered the apartment, and shortly after, Perkins and West headed out of the complex, where they were confronted by plainclothes officers. 

“These guys—plainclothes detectives—popped out the bushes and flagged us down and said we’re being detained. We’re like, ‘Detained for what? We got pulled over on the freeway, you searched our vehicle, wrote us a ticket and let us go,’” West says. “They said ‘We believe a drug transaction was going on.’”

Despite already searching their car and finding nothing but a small nugget of marijuana, the officers demanded to search the Lexus, which Perkins and West did not have keys for or access to. The men driving in the Lexus—Victor Lara, Enrique Hinojosa and Jose Jimenez—had become scared when they saw the policemen confront West and Perkins and ran, eventually getting arrested in Topeka.

Officers searched the Lexus and found prescription pills and six pounds of marijuana. Inside Gadwood’s apartment, they found myriad pills and packaged drugs that matched the ones found in the Lexus.

Gadwood agreed to become an informant and was the state’s main witness. He testified that he had met West a week earlier and paid him $1,800 for a pound of marijuana. Although Gadwood testified that he had arranged to buy the drugs from West, he was never charged with a crime—for intent to buy or for possession in his home. At the trial, several of the officers testified that they had made no deal with Gadwood in exchange for his testimony.

Later, a petition by West and his lawyer said the state had failed to disclose its arrangement with Gadwood. “He was never prosecuted despite his claimed involvement and the numerous illegal drugs found in his apartment,” lawyer Chris Biggs wrote in his petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Riley County District Court. “This all suggests the existence of, at a minimum, a non-disclosed gentlemen’s agreement not to prosecute if he testified for the State.”

Despite officers admitting that they never saw West inside the Lexus and, after searching him, found no drugs on his person and nothing drug-related on his phone, West was implicated as the “ringleader” of the drug exchange. Gadwood didn’t face any charges or time in prison in exchange for his information.

During the time West was in custody, his grandmother—who was his and his younger brothers’ legal guardian—passed away. 

“My younger brothers were going to school, kind of on autopilot until I figured out a way out,” West says. “When I got out, I would fight my case from home a little bit. I fired my public defender and I had met an attorney. And he told me everything would be cool. ‘Just hire me, I’m familiar with the court system, the judges, the DA, don’t worry about it.’” West was secure in the fact that he was innocent and that they had no evidence of his involvement with the drugs found in his friend’s Lexus.

In February 2017, West went to jury trial in Riley County District Court. Before the trial began, West’s lawyer confided in him that he had been ill and had not read his case. He assured West that he had a doctor’s note and the judge would grant him additional time. The judge denied the motion and West was left essentially without representation because his attorney was unfamiliar with his case. 

Ultimately, West was given seven and a half years—92 months—for his first-time offense, a case built solely on the testimony of an informant who didn’t face charges because he implicated West for the crime.

All five of the defendants in the case faced varying charges related to possessing and distributing marijuana. Sentences ranged from time served to West’s 92 months, which was the longest.

The majority of first time cannabis-possession offenders get probation or time served. According to a motion filed in the case, probation was given in 95 percent of the marijuana distribution cases in Kansas involving defendants with low criminal history scores. West’s lawyer told him that he would probably be the first person that year in Kansas to go to prison as a first-time offender for cannabis.

The issue lies with the laws surrounding marijuana in Kansas. “One pound or 66 pounds is the same charge with somebody like me with no criminal history,” West says. As mentioned, Kansas is one of only four states where cannabis is completely illegal and criminalized in all forms. Based on the quantity of marijuana found—even a small amount like 25 grams—the police can state there was intent to distribute and can charge the individual as such, which is a level four felony. 

Level four felony offenses in Kansas are punishable by a mandatory sentence of imprisonment of five and a half years. Intent to distribute marijuana or manufacturing meth if the quantity is less than one gram are some examples of level four drug-related felonies. Non-drug-related level four offenses in Kansas include things like aggravated battery and aggravated indecent liberties with a child.

West’s sentence time of nearly eight years as a first-time offender with no prior record was uncommon, but not unheard of, in a state with such staunch laws against marijuana. Judges across the state vary in their views and sentencing on cannabis-related crimes, with many giving probation instead of prison time, but that was not the case for West.

In Kansas, a defendant could serve a longer sentence for marijuana-related crimes than violent crimes, such as voluntary manslaughter. “The current Kansas law and penalties for marijuana are unjust,” says Christopher Joseph, West’s attorney during sentencing and his appeal. “The law is so out of sync with reality at this point.”

“I was sentenced on my youngest brother’s birthday, and he had his birthday wish to the judge [for my release],” West says. “The judge remarked, ‘You will be out to see your brothers around the end of their high school term,’ which was very unfortunate. I ended up getting sent to prison a week later. I had to choose a foster care family for my younger brothers.”

Faced with the sudden death of his grandmother, an uncertain future in foster care for his younger brothers and the possibility of spending the entirety of his 20s in prison, West was determined to keep fighting.

West’s Fight for Justice 


Map Source: Last Prisoner Project.

In prison, West saw fellow inmates read books from the law library to fight their case.

“I felt like if I applied that energy to these eight years, maybe I can go home a little sooner to see my brothers and be reunited with my family,” West says. “My motivation was when I was riding to the airport, I looked in the back seat. I have these two little boys crying and they don’t have anybody [now].”

West credits that painful memory and the thought of reuniting with his brothers as his motivation to fight his case. He began waking up at 5:30 in the morning to spend the day reading from the law library. West estimates that he read over one thousand cases during his time in prison, learning from both the wins and the losses. Eventually, he began writing a motion to appeal his conviction

In it, West argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction and noted that there was no direct evidence that he was in possession or control of the drugs found in the Lexus. The Kansas Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction on June 29, 2018, on the basis that Gadwood’s testimony supported the state’s theory that West had possession of the drugs. He was to remain in prison.

West didn’t give up hope. He began seeking advice from lawyers to write another appeal. He also wrote letters to 125 state representatives and 40 senators, outlining his case, the unfit sentence for a nonviolent first-time offender and advocating for his clemency. Former Kansas State Representative Willie Dove even visited West in prison—he was shocked that the bills he helped pass had led to such a lengthy sentence for a first-time marijuana-related conviction. Dove and other Kansas legislators wrote letters to the governor asking for clemency or a sentence reduction. West also began going out into the community, telling his story to high school kids in the Johnson County area. 

“I stayed consistent reading cases and having a voice, writing legislators from prison,” West says. “One thing I learned: They do answer. A lot of them don’t know [what’s happening] unless you tell them the story. Laws are [often] inspired to be passed from something that’s happened.”

Over three years into his sentence, West was visited by his court-appointed attorney and former Secretary of the State of Kansas Chris Biggs. West had been writing another motion to appeal in court, using the knowledge from the countless cases he had read. Biggs told West that this new motion was one of the best he had ever seen an inmate write and that West may just “have a shot” of overturning the case.

The Kansas City Star published an article about West’s fight for clemency, and his case started gaining more widespread attention. An Instagram post on West’s fight for clemency got the attention of Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit committed to freeing individuals who are still unjustly imprisoned for cannabis and creating systemic reform to the criminal legal system. The group reached out, offering support and legal help.

West declined the offer—he already had his own legal representation and a motion that was nearly ready to present—but he began a partnership with Last Prisoner Project which would extend far outside of prison.

In September 2019, West filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Riley County District Court. In the new petition, West claimed that his first attorney had been ineffective at his trial by failing to secure the crucial testimony from the other four men in the car convoy that West did not know about the drugs in the Lexus.

One of the men in the Lexus, Victor Lara, said in an affidavit: “Donte at no point had knowledge of the marijuana that was in my car. Nobody else knew what was hidden in my vehicle. Donte and I were on separate trips in the same direction. The only reason I stopped at Gadwood’s house was to take a shower before I went to my final destination.”

The petition also stated that the state had failed to disclose the supposed arrangement with Gadwood, which officers testified did not exist. West says that the lawyers told him there was a 98% chance he would lose. West remembers them saying, “The type of motion you’re filing—I’ve got colleagues that have never won that type of motion in the course of them being a lawyer.” 

However, on Oct. 13, 2020, Judge John Bosch of Riley County District Court ordered that West’s convictions be vacated on the basis that although the state’s failure to disclose evidence about Gadwood was “inadvertent,” it still raised issues of his credibility as a witness. Bosch did not address West’s claim on ineffective assistance of counsel.

After three-and-a-half years in prison for a first-time cannabis related-offense, West was released from prison. “If a person wants to go home, you’ve got to be obsessed with the situation in order to reach success,” West says. “If I wasn’t obsessed then, honestly, I don’t think I would have gotten home. I wanted freedom for myself, but I did it for my younger brothers. We do it for the people we love. I just felt like if I’ve done everything I can to get out, I can live with that. If I didn’t do everything I could possibly do to get out, then I couldn’t live with it.”

At the time of his release, Riley County District Attorney Barry Wilkerson said he planned to retry West. “I’m just going to err on the side of caution,” he said. “I’d just rather retry the case and make sure that there are no issues with the integrity of a prosecution than for there to be any questions.”

West was adamant that he wouldn’t take any deals or accept a felony charge with time served if he was reconvicted. He would take the DA head-on in trial again. West wanted the case dismissed and off of his record for good. “I’d have to live in the hood with my younger brothers. I [couldn’t get] loans or other opportunities. I can’t vote. I’d got to work a certain job, I’d got to live in a certain neighborhood. I have to raise two younger brothers and the area [we live in] will dictate what high school they go to,” West says. “I don’t want to go to trial again. But I will.”

The challenges and limitations convicted felons face once they re-enter society negatively impact them for the rest of their lives, even if they did serve time for something as simple as cannabis use, which a person could have served time in prison for just for it to be legal by the time they’re released. Convicted felons may lose the right to vote, hold office and serve on a jury—along with facing many more nearly insurmountable hurdles and discrimination when it comes to housing and job opportunities. Certain health insurance providers may deny convicted felons. Until 2014, convicted felons couldn’t even apply for food stamps.

On March 3, 2021, Wilkerson filed a motion to dismiss West’s case. Bosch approved the dismissal that day. West became the 2,779th person to be exonerated in America.

Now, West leads community and business development for Illicit Gardens, a multi-state cannabis company with a criminal justice advocacy focus. He is also the inspiration behind West by Illicit, a product line launched in 2022 that donates a percentage of all sales to Kansas and Missouri incarcerated cannabis prisoners to assist with inmate commissary funds and reintegration fees.

Last year, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and the City Council recognized April 20 as “4/20 Donte West Cannabis Justice Day” as a way to honor West’s legacy as a cannabis justice advocate. He also owns dispensaries in New Jersey and in his former home of Stockton, California.

West has remained involved with Last Prisoner Project, where he works as a Legacy Fellow, helping free people incarcerated on cannabis-related charges. West has already helped secure the early release of another former inmate at Lansing, Kyle Page. West made good on the promise he made to Page in prison and, with the help of Last Prisoner Project, helped get Page’s time served back and his release moved up a few months.

Now, he is set on doing everything he can to help bring freedom to his former bunkmate, Antonio Wyatt.

The Cost of the War on Drugs 

Kansas has spent nearly $200,000 to incarcerate Antonio Wyatt in the last six-plus years.

The cost per adult inmate in Kansas is approximately $30,100 per year, according to the Fiscal Year 2020 Annual Report from the Department of Corrections.

Patrick Armstrong of the Council of State Governors Justice Center estimated that Kansas spent $43 million in 2019 to incarcerate people just for violating the post-release supervision conditions and an additional $41 million for drug offenses. It costs almost 10 times as much to incarcerate—rather than supervise—an offender.

According to Last Prisoner Project, 15.7 million people have been arrested for marijuana-related offenses over the past 20 years in the U.S. The “War on Drugs”—the government-led initiative to stop illegal drug use, distribution and trade by dramatically increasing prison sentences for both drug dealers and users—costs over $47 billion a year. Meanwhile, the U.S. legal cannabis market in 2022 was valued at $13.2 billion—and expected to continue to grow.

Barry Grissom, the former United States Attorney for the District of Kansas, discusses the challenges that have arisen from legalizing cannabis on a state-by-state basis. “Around 2014, Colorado voted for adult cannabis use,” he says. “The Department of Justice had to make a decision because marijuana is still a schedule one drug right there next to heroin, which is foolish.”

Schedule one is the highest ranking. These drugs are classified as most harmful, and having the least, if any, medical or therapeutic use. “There’s been some discussion recently by the administration of scheduling cannabis down to a level three so the actual research can be done on it, because right now there’s only one place in the country allowed to do research on cannabis and that’s at a grow facility at the University of Mississippi,” Grissom says. “If you’re a scientist or a researcher and you want to do research, you can’t do it. If it’s rescheduled, folks can do meaningful research. On the flip side of that is the prosecution against someone using cannabis, as an example, in their home, away from their children. You shouldn’t run the risk of having the government come in and deprive you of your liberty and seize your property because you’re engaging in that conduct. That is such an overreach, when compared to something like fentanyl or heroin. It’s just not the same.”

This classification makes cannabis-related offenders, in the eyes of the law, on the same level as a heroin user, despite cannabis being legal and generating revenue for states.

On the other side of Kansas, Missouri sold more than $1.4 billion worth of legal cannabis during the first year of recreational sales, according to MoCannTrade, the cannabis trade association in Missouri. The cannabis industry in Missouri employs over 18,000 people and has generated $100 million in taxes for the state.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, more than 100,000 marijuana cases were expunged in Missouri in the past year as part of a constitutional amendment Missouri voters approved in 2022. However, court officials say it’s hard to determine how many more cases are left because many court records are not digitized, so the process is a slow-going one. It’s estimated that the legalization of marijuana will prevent about 20,000 marijuana arrests in Missouri annually.  

 FBI crime data has recorded over 377,000 arrests in Missouri for marijuana possession since 1998. Those make up 55% of total arrests made for drug possession during that period. Currently, it is a class A misdemeanor to possess 10 to 35 grams of marijuana and punishable by a fine. Possession of any more than 35 grams remains a felony.

However, Kansans remain in a precarious position, able to drive several minutes over the state line to access legal marijuana before coming back to it being completely illegal in their home state. “Now, you can go across the state line to dispensaries [in Missouri] and see all the Johnson County and Wyandotte County taxpayers buying cannabis,” Grissom says. “It’s just illogical.”

While Missouri is profiting in the billions from the legalized marijuana industry, just over the state line, Kansas is incarcerating people for the same thing.

“If you’re a member of the military and you’re stationed at Fort Riley, let’s say you’ve done two or three tours of duty and you have PTSD, but you don’t want to take psychotropic drugs. Maybe the use of cannabis helps alleviate some of the issues that you have,” Grissom says. “So you drive to Denver or Kansas City, and when you are driving back to Fort Riley, you get pulled over. You run a real risk of being dismissed from the military and losing any VA benefits you might have. It’s really counterproductive, particularly for the men and women in our military, to be faced with something like that if [using cannabis] might help them in some way.”

The Fight for Wyatt’s Clemency Continues


Kyle Page, another former inmate at Lansing Correctional Facility for marijuana possession, who was released early from prison with help from Donte West and Last Prisoner Project. Photography provided.

Kyle Page, an inmate with West and Wyatt, found friendship with the men in Lansing Correctional Facility when they bonded over their drive to start a business in the burgeoning cannabis industry—the same thing they were all serving time for.

Page, who was involved with professionally growing marijuana in California, was sentenced to 82 months in prison for possession of cannabis in Kansas. Thanks to West’s help with Last Prisoner Project, Page was released early and made it home in time for Christmas in 2021.

Yet, when he got home, Page still had to serve two years of post-release supervision, or parole, which amounts to nearly a decade of time for cannabis possession.

Page shares some of the difficulties he’s faced since being free. “With your life in incarceration, you’re truly behind,” he says. “I planned on getting my commercial driver’s license, but I was automatically shot down by parole, even though it’s a good career—something I can do for the rest of my life. ‘We don’t want you going from state to state.’ They make it so that I have to stay home in my parents’ house being a 40-some-year-old man. I’m not allowed to be independent because they want to come look at my house. What landlord is really gonna want somebody renting with a whole bunch of cops coming in? They prohibit you and stop you from moving forward in life. And this is still all about the cannabis.

“Through Last Prisoner Project, I was able to get a job in cannabis because I learned how to grow cannabis in California,” Page says. “So I became a cultivator. They have a program—which is a social equity program—where not only did they bring me in and hire me as a cultivator, but they also put me in a class—giving people the tools and the knowledge to actually run a store.”

Now, Page and West are opening a cannabis dispensary in New Jersey together.

Page remains hopeful for Wyatt after seeing what Last Prisoner Project and West have done for him and others like him. Still, he questions the inequality in cannabis laws and the industry as attitudes across the country toward marijuana change. “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that [Wyatt] is still sitting in there while people out here are making millions and millions of dollars off of it,” Page says. “I think it’s unfair. It’s hurting the taxpayers by making them pay for people to stay locked up. [Wyatt] could be a part of society working in the cannabis industry, putting back in the tax money, giving revenue to his community, and instead he’s sitting there wasting away.”

Grissom echoes this sentiment, but wants to extend this to everyone in prison for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses. “I’m hopeful that individuals who were either using, possessing, selling or manufacturing cannabis [are] pardoned,” he says. “Their sentences should be expunged, and they should be allowed to return to their families, their communities and be functioning taxpayers.”

Today, cannabis remains illegal in Kansas. However, two bills have been introduced in 2023 toward legalizing medical cannabis, as well as one relating to decriminalizing cannabis possession. The state recently amended its law to reduce penalties for first-time offenders possessing cannabis, but they are still subject to up to six months imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Kansas still classifies marijuana as a schedule one substance.

With Wyatt’s clemency petition denied by the Kansas Prisoner Review Board late last year and Governor Kelly not giving clemency since 2021, things don’t look as hopeful as they once did. Part of the problem is that there is no deadline for granting or declining clemency, so there is less urgency. Kelly’s term does not end until 2026. Neither she nor the Kansas Prisoner Review Board have returned requests for comment.

Wyatt is just one of countless people in prison for something that is now medically or recreationally legal in much of the country. Despite Wyatt’s petition being denied, he, West, Page, Grissom and everyone at Last Prisoner Project remain hopeful for his release.

Last Prisoner Project has initiated a social media campaign called #FreeAntonioWyatt. More information can be found at