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Congressional Lawmakers Push Biden To Grant Marijuana Clemency To Thousands Locked Up In Federal Prison



A coalition of 36 members of Congress are calling on President Joe Biden to grant clemency to all Americans currently in federal prison over non-violent cannabis convictions by commuting their sentences, pointing out that the pardons he’s issued to date for simple possession cases did not release a single person from incarceration.

In a letter sent to the president on Thursday, led by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the members said that the “continued incarceration of these individuals continues the racist legacy of the War on Drugs, contradicts the current societal and legal trends regarding marijuana, and represents an unnecessary burden on our morals and justice system.”

“Until the day Congress sends you a marijuana reform bill to sign, you have a unique ability to lead on criminal justice reform and provide immediate relief to thousands of Americans,” they wrote, citing his yet-unfulfilled 2020 campaign pledge to federally decriminalize cannabis, free people incarcerated over marijuana and expunge criminal records.

While Biden has falsely suggested that his pardons resulted in expungements and prison releases, that’s not the case. He repeated the expungement misstatement most recently during his State of the Union address this month. In reality, the pardons only represent formal forgiveness from the government, without wiping records. And nobody who received the pardons was actively in prison for the charge.

The letter also comes one day before Vice President Kamala Harris is set to meet with cannabis pardon recipients at the White House to discuss their experiences under the president’s clemency proclamations.

“Federal courts sentence only a couple hundred simple marijuana possession cases each year, and no one sentenced for simple possession is in federal prison,” the lawmakers wrote to the president. “The general pardon also failed to provide much relief to those haunted by criminal records—the bulk of federal marijuana cases involve felony offenses, which, unlike the misdemeanors you pardoned, impose serious civil disabilities (e.g., disenfranchisement) and crippling collateral consequences (e.g., barriers to employment, housing, and education).”

“It is critical to expand clemency opportunities for those still caught up in discriminatory enforcement of marijuana prohibition. Today, federal incarceration for marijuana offenses is done in spite of the transformation in marijuana laws across the nation,” the letter says. “It is inconsistent for the federal government to keep punishing individuals for violating a ban that it does not actually support and that an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose on a bipartisan basis.”

The lawmakers also shared anecdotes about two specific people who remain incarcerated over non-violent federal convictions for cannabis distribution: Jerry Haymon, an aspiring athlete, and Danny Travino, who was operating a state-legal dispensary in Michigan.

Haymon, who is currently incarcerated over cannabis, told Marijuana Moment in a statement that the message from lawmakers “brings a glimmer of hope to many of us confined within these walls for what is now considered a minor offense in numerous states.” He also drew attention to two other people incarcerated over cannabis distribution cases that weren’t mentioned in the lawmakers’ letter.

“This action is more than a push for legal reform: It’s a call to recognize the years, dreams, and families that have been drastically impacted by outdated policies, including Danny Trevino, Jimmy Cournoyer, and Parker Coleman. For individuals like myself, who once had the promise of a bright future outside of these barriers, this moment represents a potential pivot towards justice and rehabilitation over punishment. It signifies a collective acknowledgment that the time has come to rectify the inconsistencies in our justice system and restore the dignity and potential of countless lives put on hold.”

“As we await the possibility of a second chance, this support from our nation’s leaders instills a renewed sense of hope and a belief in the power of advocacy and change,” he said.

Signatories on the letter wrote that the individuals cited in it “represent just a fraction of those who languish in prison for acts that are no longer considered crimes in many states, and for which there’s now a broad societal consensus that previous policies were unduly punitive and inconsistent with marijuana’s actual risks.”

“We ask that you commute the federal prison sentences of all individuals who are incarcerated for marijuana offenses. We also call upon you to pardon such offenses for people who already live peacefully in free society and to support federal legislation to expunge marijuana offenses. In doing so, you would be helping to fulfill the promises you’ve made, while also meaningfully improving people’s lives and building upon the historic statement made by your previous general pardon.”

Weldon Angelos, who received a presidential pardon under the Trump administration for his own cannabis case, told Marijuana Moment that lawmakers who signed the letter are “acknowledging a fundamental truth: it is unconscionable for people to serve decades in prison for actions that are not only legal in most states but are also being conducted on a much larger scale by state-legal cannabis companies.”

“In a country where the legal landscape of cannabis is changing rapidly, the continued incarceration of individuals for marijuana offenses stands as a stark contradiction to the principles of justice and equity,” he said.

In an interview with Marijuana Moment last month, Lee separately said that the president’s pardon proclamations for federal marijuana possession offenses should be “extended all the way out, and any unintended or intended consequences of the war on drugs should be dealt with to repair the damage.”

Lee and Blumenauer have also advocated for an administrative descheduling of cannabis under the president’s review directive, imploring the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to go further than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Schedule III reclassification recommendation by fully removing it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Lee has said the incremental step of rescheduling marijuana could set the country back “another 50 years” on the path to federal legalization.

Meanwhile, Blumenauer led a different letter this week with a Republican colleague that criticized DEA and HHS for their “unacceptable” lack of progress on removing cannabis research barriers under their bill that Biden signed into law in 2022 that was meant to streamline the process.

Read the lawmakers’ letter to Biden on marijuana clemency expansion below: 

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