Freeway Ricky Ross Talks Marijuana Industry, Hillary Clinton and the Drug War

By Seth Ferranti 10/14/16

Freeway Ricky Ross was an illiterate crack kingpin with a life sentence. Now, after successfully fighting for an earlier release, writing an autobiography and producing an Emmy-nominated documentary, he's eyeing the legal marijuana industry.

Freeway Ricky Ross
“Even though I did want some fame and recognition I never knew it could go to this level.” via Facebook

Freeway Ricky Ross’ name is synonymous with the dope game. In the capitalistic '80s, when he was trafficking hundreds of kilos at a time, Freeway inadvertently became the poster boy for the crack era—a homegrown South Central, Los Angeles product who basically invented the retail market for crack cocaine, enabling him to generate upwards of $1 million dollars a day at his height. With an army of Crips at his beck and call, transporting cocaine across the nation, Freeway’s been historically blamed for the crack epidemic.

But when San Jose Mercury News journalist Gary Webb, the subject of the 2014 film Kill The Messenger, uncovered that Freeway was unknowingly selling cocaine for the CIA—through one of their operatives, Danilo Blandon, to fund the Contras in Nicaragua—Freeway was suddenly thrust into the political spotlight. Given a life sentence after being set up by Blandon and the feds, Freeway was buried inside the belly of the beast. Refusing to give up, the former illiterate crack kingpin taught himself to read and started hitting the law books, eventually winning his freedom by way of being re-sentenced to 20 years.

Out since 2009, Freeway Ricky Ross has been on his grind—penning an autobiography, producing the documentary Freeway: Crack in the System that got nominated for an Emmy, and waging a campaign to take his name back from Everyday I’m Hustlin’ superstar rapper William Roberts aka Rick Ross. When he’s not selling his books or "The Real Rick Ross is NOT a Rapper" t-shirts in barbershops across the nation, Freeway’s scheming on ways to make money legitimately, something he takes just as seriously as his unofficial role as Mayor of the Ghetto.

“Even though I did want some fame and recognition I never knew it could go to this level,” Freeway says of his infamy. “All this from selling drugs, but when I was in prison I started studying. I studied marketing and management, just all the different aspects of business that I really didn’t know about, but that I was doing when I was selling drugs.” Freeway realized that a lot of the attributes that made him a successful drug dealer could help him in other ventures, like the legal marijuana industry.

“I look at the marijuana industry the same way I look at other business,” Freeway says. “But I have to educate myself as much as I can. Just about all my people smoke pot, everybody in my family. I might be the only one who doesn’t. So for them to be in the industry, but not in the money making aspect of it, that’s wrong. I feel like it’s my job to go out and educate myself so that I can educate them.”

African Americans have struggled to make inroads into the legal weed industry and Freeway wants to change that. He’s been attending cannabis conventions in California and Colorado to network, learn the trade and see who’s who. Greeted as an outlaw hero of epic proportions in the legalization movement, Freeway’s found that many people in the industry are very interested in his story. Now he just needs a way to get his foot in the door.

“I’ll probably have a full line of everything. My own strains.” Freeway says. “I was going to buy a farm before the cops took my money, but I still plan on going out and getting my own farm. Right now the opportunities for ex-cons is limited, because a lot of the states don’t want us to hold licenses, but one of the licenses we can hold in California is a growing license. We can grow our own cannabis. But eventually, hopefully that will change.”

Freeway’s also looking forward to the presidential election. It’ll be the first time he votes since he lost that right as a convicted felon. After all those years of incarceration, his right to vote has finally been restored.

“I don’t know if Trump is the right guy for us,” Freeway says. “Neither one has really been out in the communities. I think it’s time we start looking for somebody who’s ridden on our streets without a caravan with guards and people all around them, so they never really get to see what life is really like for an everyday person. They’re living in kind of like a bubble I believe, but I do think Hillary would be a better choice than Donald Trump.” 

The upcoming recreational marijuana vote in California is also high on Freeway’s agenda, as he eyes making inroads into the legal marijuana game.

“This is going to be the first time that I ever vote in my life, and I will be voting for Hillary Clinton as well as the marijuana laws that will make marijuana in California recreational,” Freeway says. “I think it’s going to be great for the city of Los Angeles. It will create jobs. I heard in Colorado that every kid in Colorado now has a computer or a laptop since they made marijuana recreational. It would be wonderful to see every kid in Los Angeles with the Internet and a laptop computer.”

Lofty ambitions aside, Freeway Rick is still a realist and believes that African American men, women and children getting gunned down by cops is a byproduct of the police being militarized due to the drug war.

“It started from the drug business,” Freeway says. “Renegade police blowing down doors, shooting and asking questions later. Then it translated over to where they started to relate gang banging with being a drug dealer, and all of that created the image of the young black male causing all the problems in America. The first thing police think about when they encounter a black man is that he’s a gang banging, gun toting lunatic that’s high on crack cocaine. 

“That makes the cops nervous to the point where any flinch or any blink of the eye, and cops are shooting. I think that image has to be changed, not only for the cops, but for society as a whole. Young black males need to stop shooting each other, because that only reinforces the stereotypes that are already out there.”

Freeway thinks that views on the War on Drugs are changing and that society is realizing that burying people in the penitentiary isn’t the answer. Treating addiction as a medical issue instead of a criminal one is the first step.

“By treating the opioid crisis like a medical issue and not a criminal issue, we can move forward,” Freeway says. “Because now there’s more white kids getting high on heroin than there were black kids getting high on crack. Blacks were incarcerated for addiction, but I’m hoping that we’re looking at drugs now not as a criminal thing, but more as a health and economical problem. That’s what it’s going to take to end this whole drug craze, living off of other people’s misery. We all have to educate ourselves to figure out ways that we can make money other than benefiting off of the drug war.”

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.