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.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Cellist Cremaine Booker's performance of Faure's "Pavane" is as impressive as it is beautiful.

Music might be the closest thing the world has to real magic. Music has the ability to transform any atmosphere in seconds, simply with the sounds of a few notes. It can be simple—one instrument playing single notes like raindrops—or a complex symphony of melodies and harmonies, swirling and crashing like waves from dozens of instruments. Certain rhythms can make us spontaneously dance and certain chord progressions can make us cry.

Music is an art, a science, a language and a decidedly human endeavor. People have made music throughout history, in every culture on every continent. Over time, people have perfected the crafting of instruments and passed along the knowledge of how to play them, so every time we see someone playing music, we're seeing the history of humanity culminated in their craft. It's truly an amazing thing.

The pandemic threw a wrench into seeing live musicians for a good chunk of time, and even now, live performances are limited. Thankfully, we have technology that makes it easier for musicians to collaborate and perform with one another virtually—and also makes it easier for people to create "group" performances all by themselves.

Keep Reading Show less

A round-up of delights from around the internet this week.

Hey all!

Welcome to Upworthy's weekly roundup of delights from around the internet. This week's list features a little of everything—gorgeous music, cute kids, adorable animals, hope for the planet and a brand new video message from the late and great Betty White.

That's right, Betty White left us a message of gratitude shortly before her passing. It's brief, but how lovely to see and hear her speak to her millions of fans one last time. Few celebrities are as universally beloved as Betty White was, and though we knew she couldn't live forever, it would have been fun to see her celebrate her 100th birthday. Now, at least, we get to experience her joy and warmth with a few last words.

Keep Reading Show less