Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are making a serious push to expunge people's pot convictions
Courtesy of Houseplant.

In America, one dumb mistake can hang over your head forever.

Nearly 30% of the American adult population — about 70 million people — have at least one criminal conviction that can prevent them from being treated equally when it comes to everything from job and housing opportunities to child custody.

Twenty million of these Americans have felony convictions that can destroy their chances of making a comfortable living and prevents them from voting out the lawmakers who imprisoned them.

Many of these convictions are drug-related and stem from the War on Drugs that began in the U.S. '80s. This war has unfairly targeted the minority community, especially African-Americans.


Research reported by Human Rights Watch shows that while African-American and white people use and sell recreational drugs at around the same rate, African-Americans are much more likely to be arrested.

via Office of Public Affairs

In 1980, black people were arrested at rates almost three (2.9) times the rate of whites. In the years with the worst disparities, between 1988 and 1993, blacks were arrested more than five times the rate of whites. In the last six years, the ratio of black to white drug arrest rates has ranged between 3.5 and 3.9.

RELATED: Body cam images appear to show police planting weed on a black teenager. What do you see?

Over the past decade, bolstered by the success surrounding legal marijuana and a sharp decline in the U.S. crime rate, Americans and their elected officials have been reevaluating the effects of the drug war.

This has led to a host of major cities and the states of Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire, illinois, Nevada, and California to expunge thousands of people's marijuana-related offenses.

The Obama administration commuted the sentences of hundreds of non-violent drug offenders during the end of his second term. In December 2018, President Trump signed the First-Step Act which freed 3,000 people, many of which are non-violent drug offenders.

In an effort to help people have their criminal convictions expunged or sealed, over four dozen organizations have come together for National Expungement Week (N.E.W.) September 21 to 28.

It's a week of over 40 events held in 30 cities across the U.S. and Canada, including free clinics to help remove, seal, or reclassify eligible convictions from criminal records (depending on local legislation), as well as provide expungement education workshops and complementary services.

Click here to find an event near you.

This year, the N.E.W.'s presenting sponsor is Houseplant, a Canadian cannabis brand co-founded by actor-writer Seth Rogen and writer-director Evan Goldberg along with its partner, Canopy Growth Corporation.

Rogen and Goldberg have collaborated on numerous classic comedies including "Superbad," "Pineapple Express," and "This is the End."

Upworthy got the chance to have a chat with Rogen and Goldberg about N.E.W.'s efforts to help people get free from past convictions, the insanity of the drug war, and pot legalization's affect on the stoner comedy genre.

Upworthy: We've hit a tipping point where people's attitudes towards the War on Drugs are rapidly changing. What do you think has swayed public opinion?

Seth Rogen: People have realized that cannabis should not have ever been illegal in the first place. And if you look into the reasons why it's illegal, a lot of it is motivated by racism and literally designed to control marginalized groups. It never was right and, I think, with education more and more people realize that.

Evan Goldberg: I think a lot of it has to do with the Internet. People jut look up "Why is marijuana illegal?" and you'll find the answer is fucking crazy.

SR: What's nice to see is there's momentum towards a broad acknowledgement that it was always an unjust war. People who smoke cannabis should have never been targeted in the first place. People see that with legalization at the state level, and that in Canada it's legal, that a lot of the things people were saying about it were wrong.

UP: It's like we all believed the "Reefer Madness" myth.

SR: Yeah, exactly and there's enough information out there to let the average person know that none of that is true.

Up: There's still a lingering sentiment out there that the war on cannabis is still a good thing, like when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was saying he'll crack down on marijuana. How do you convince these people otherwise?

EG: We've reached the place where a lot of people see there's a lot of money to be made and that's' changing some attitudes.

SR: One of the rare moments where capitalism might actually help our culture in some way.

UP: Throughout your involvement with National Expungement Week are there any cases or stories you've heard that have deeply affected you?

SR: In my life I've met tons of people records for possession, minor offenses. I grew up in Canada, where it's a little different, but I've done comedy with tons of comedians who could not cross the border because they had minor drug charges.

That seriously damages their careers and their livelihood. After I moved to L.A., I met tons and tons of normal people who also had offenses. Whereas I was leading a life [in Canada] where I could pretty much smoke weed anywhere I wanted without any repercussions, [in L.A.] I was meeting people who could not. They had a lot of problems doing the same thing I was doing and that's led to us trying to fix this situation.

You're arrested? Have a record? Now that it's happened, how do help people get rid of that record and move on with their lives with the understanding they never should have had it in the first place. That's what Cage-Free Cannabis specifically was focusing on and we really found a lot of common ground over their goals.

EG: As two guys who are lucky enough to be from Vancouver, British Columbia where we could just walk down the street and not get in any real trouble we owe it to the people who aren't lucky enough to live in an area that is lenient.

RELATED: Someone joked Seth Rogen should be the voice of his city's bus system. Now he is.

UP: For people with records that they'd like expunged or sealed, what's the first step?

SR: The first step is to go to www.offtherecord.us to find information to see if you are eligible for expungement. All over America and Canada they're setting up places where people can physically go and get help with their expungement and get legal advice to see if they are eligible. If you are, they will help you with your expungement.

UP: Do you think weed legalization will be a big issue in the 2020 election? Bill Maher is always saying saying Democrats should make single-issue voters out of weed people like the Republicans do with gun owners.

SR: It's hard for me to predict any trends in the American political climate to be totally honest.[Laughs] I don't know where all of this is going. I hope it becomes a bigger issue. I think there are millions of millions of people's lives that have been negatively affected by the War on Drugs.

EG: Everyone has been affected by the unfathomable waste of money. It's like dumping money into a fucking pit. That money could be going to a million different things to help this country and everyone in it.

UP: It's like a guy gets busted for a dime bag and the taxpayers get charged $50,000 a year to keep him in a cage.

SR: It literally makes no sense in any way, shape, or form until you understand the privatized prison system. Then it makes a lot of sense.

UP: What's the biggest part about the expungement issue most people don't know about?

SR: To me, the shocking statistic is that there are around 350 million people in America and around 80 million of these people have criminal records and a lot of that is for very minor offenses. That is almost a quarter of the country can't do the things that most of us do without even thinking twice. Getting jobs, voting, getting loans…

EG: It's more than the population of Canada. When you think of that number and you think about the drain on the economy, people, and communities, it's just waste. It's crazy to think about a guy who can't get a job because of this watching me go into [a pot store] and come out with a shopping bag with legally acquired things while his life is still held back.

UP: It's also a law-enforcement issue, police probably have bigger things to worry about.

SR: A lot of the reasons weed is illegal is to control marginalized groups. If you take something everyone does but you only enforce it with some people, you've come up with a very good way to put who ever you want in jail.

UP: Do you think that as weed becomes less taboo, stoner comedies will be less funny?

SR: [Laughs] Definitely.

EG: [Laughs] Everything we make gets less funny over time.

SR: We have no stoner comedies on the horizon right now.

EG: Twenty years from now people will be like "Why are these dumb guy smoking weed?"

SR: They'll go the way of martini comedies of the '30s.

via Kat Stickler / TikTok

Kat Stickler has created a hilarious series of videos about her husband that a lot of women say they can relate to because theirs behave the exact same way.

Stickler is a mother who shares funny videos about her domestic life on TikTok where she's earned over six million followers.

In the videos, she transforms into her husband Mike by throwing on a backward baseball cap and adopting a deeper voice. From the videos, it's pretty clear that Mike always wants some sort of praise for doing the things he's supposed to do.

The interesting thing about the couple is that they went from dating to parents pretty much overnight. Three months after their first date, Kat was pregnant and they were married.

Keep Reading Show less
via Kat Stickler / TikTok

Kat Stickler has created a hilarious series of videos about her husband that a lot of women say they can relate to because theirs behave the exact same way.

Stickler is a mother who shares funny videos about her domestic life on TikTok where she's earned over six million followers.

In the videos, she transforms into her husband Mike by throwing on a backward baseball cap and adopting a deeper voice. From the videos, it's pretty clear that Mike always wants some sort of praise for doing the things he's supposed to do.

The interesting thing about the couple is that they went from dating to parents pretty much overnight. Three months after their first date, Kat was pregnant and they were married.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."