The man who spent more than three decades behind bars because the FBI made him a teenage drug informant is launching a weed brand.
Richard Wershe Jr., aka “White Boy Rick,” received a life sentence for cocaine possession in 1988. He was 17 at the time and had been working as an informant for three years—the youngest known FBI informant in U.S. history—after he said law enforcement officials convinced him to get involved with drug trafficking on Detroit’s east side.
Before that, Wershe, 52, told VICE World News, “I never saw a drug in my life,” though he was familiar with local dealers.
“I took money that they gave me to buy drugs, I then took those drugs and sold them. They taught me to be a drug dealer and I became a drug dealer.”
But once he was arrested, Wershe said authorities abandoned him and lied to cover up the fact that he was their informant.
Last year, Wershe was released from prison on good behavior.
Now he’s teaming up with Michigan-based weed producer Pleasantrees Cannabis Company to launch a brand called The 8th—a nod to both an eighth of weed and the Eighth Amendment protecting Americans against “cruel and unusual punishments.” The brand, set to launch this fall, will also sell weed accessories and merch.
“I've met people in federal prison doing life sentences for marijuana. I mean, it was tonnes, but you know it was still a plant. Life for a cannabis crime was a bit harsh.”
He said poor people from neighbourhoods like his who sell drugs to survive often wind up disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes. Mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes are “fucked up,” he added.
“I think we could release 50 percent of the people in our prison system and it wouldn't make society any more dangerous because over 50 percent are non-violent offenders.”
Wershe said after he got out of jail and realized that weed was legal in many states, he was “delightfully surprised.”
“Everybody knows that the war on drugs failed, that it was fake,” he said, noting that he’s met with prosecutors and judges and “nobody really believes in locking people up for extended periods of time for drugs anymore.”
Wershe said partial proceeds from his weed line will help people wrongfully or excessively criminalized for drug crimes.
Though he doesn’t smoke weed, he believes the government has no business telling adults what they can and can’t consume. He described pharmaceutical giants responsible for the opioid crisis as “cartels.”
“There’s been 500,000 deaths, $27 billion in fines. And not one person has been incarcerated.”
Pleasantrees’ website said the company is committed to social equity in cannabis, including hiring people who were criminalized for weed crimes and pushing for legislation that addresses the harms of the war on drugs. Wershe said those measures drew him to the company.
As VICE News previously reported, Wershe filed a $100 million lawsuit in July against the two former FBI agents and Detroit police who “used, abused, reused, and re-abused” him and then and then abandoned him once he was facing criminal repercussions. He said he wouldn’t have gotten involved in selling drugs were it not for the cops.
Wershe’s story has been prominently featured in television and film in recent years. Eminem is set to play Wershe in a cameo role in the Starz series BMF, about the origins of the mafia in Detroit. Its executive producer is 50 Cent. The 2018 film White Boy Rick, starring Matthew McConaughey, earned $25 million at the box office. According to the Metro Times, Wershe is also working on a documentary about his life called The Long Road Home.
He said law enforcement “stole the best years of my life,” but he’s still optimistic.
“Where I'm at today in my life, I'm happy. You know, I'm strong, I'm healthy. I'm doing positive things.”
For 32 years he said the nickname White Boy Rick wrongly painted him as a drug king pin—but now he’s using it as his brand.
“They made me into a mythological character. It was this huge drug kingpin that was responsible for the downfall of the city of Detroit… I was 17 years old,” he said. “I suffered from it for 32 years. So now I'm going to benefit from it.”
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Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said 50 Cent directed the Starz series BMF when in fact he is the executive producer.