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Trump Grants Clemency To Marijuana Prisoners On Last Day In Office

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As one of his final acts in the White House, President Trump on Wednesday announced that he has granted clemency to dozens more people with marijuana and drug convictions.

The latest batch of pardons and commutations is the product of a push from advocates, celebrities and even some Republican lawmakers, who coordinated with White House staff over the course of Trump’s administration.

In a letter sent to the president in November, the coalition noted the president’s comments supporting bipartisan legislation to protect state cannabis programs from federal intervention and argued that congressional gridlock meant that those most harmed under federal prohibition would go without relief unless executive action was taken.

They also attached a list of people incarcerated in federal prison who they felt were most deserving of clemency—an addendum that was requested by the office of Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Now the White House has granted relief to several of those names.

One of the people on that list, Craig Cesal, was granted clemency for his cannabis conviction that landed him a life sentence.

“It feels like a new life, even though I don’t even know the terms yet,” Cesal, who received a call about the news on Tuesday evening from Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, told Marijuana Moment. “Just to know that I won’t have to go back to the prison after COVID abates is a huge relief.”

Cesal was released to home confinement in June.

“Many, many marijuana activists have worked for years to make this happen for me, with the Last Prisoner Project helping recently with my reintegration into society,” he said. “My release and my clemency is due solely to the efforts of many marijuana activist groups, and I thank each and every one of them.”

Another recipient of the presidential action is Michael Pelletier, who has served 14 years of a life sentence over a federal marijuana conviction. He’s been a paraplegic since age 11 and is currently 64.

Weldon Angelos, an activist who received a presidential pardon for a federal marijuana conviction last month and has been involved in the White House talks about further clemency, told Marijuana Moment that he’s been encouraged by the progress that advocates have been able to make.

However, one person he fought especially hard for—Luke Scarmazzo, who was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for operating a state-legal medical cannabis business in California—did not make Wednesday’s clemency list. Angelos said it’s possible he was passed up at the last minute, or that he will be granted relief in another round of clemency on Wednesday.

Although Trump would need to sign any grant of relief prior to the end of his term at noon, there is no requirement in federal law that it be publicly announced by that time in order to take effect.

“He was following state law—and they used his case to send the message,” Angelos said, of Scarmazzo. “He got charged under a kingpin statute, as though he was a cartel member, rather than providing medicinal cannabis for people that needed it.”

In all, 12 people with marijuana-related convictions were included in the latest round of clemency actions, and more than two dozen others with other drug offenses on their records were also granted pardons or commutations.

Of course, while Trump campaigned during his reelection bid as the criminal justice reform candidate, certain administrative actions have raised questions about that—such as the revival of federal executions for people on death row. He hasn’t done anything to proactively promote marijuana policy reform either, and has taken a number of hostile budget actions related to cannabis while also hiring several key officials who hold anti-legalization views.

Asked what message he felt resonated with the White House when it came to presidential clemency for nonviolent drug offenders, Angelos said he thinks Trump “is not a typical politician, and so he doesn’t make the same political calculations as other presidents.”

“I think Trump was also very skeptical of the government,” he said, as well as the criminal proceedings that land people in prison for lengthy sentences over minor crimes.

As with his last batch of pardons and commutations, it’s possible that these particular actions for people with drug-related convictions will be overshadowed by the slew of other clemency decisions that are rolling out, such as one for former Trump advisor Steve Bannon.

And at the same time that Angelos was pardoned last month, Trump gave clemency to allies and controversial figures such as Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, former Republican members of Congress and the team of four private military contractors convicted of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in the 2007 Nisour Square massacre.

But advocates—including Angelos and Alice Johnson, who also received a presidential commutation in 2018—are going to take their wins where they can get them.

Wednesday was “a day to honor mercy and justice, a day to celebrate the second chance given to many deserving individuals, and the families and communities who have been reunited with their loved ones,” Johnson said in a press release.

“While we celebrate today, let us not forget we still have laws in place that put nonviolent people in prison for life and there remain thousands behind bars today, who have paid their debt to society and who deserve a second chance to return home,” she added. “Today is just more fuel for the fire in my heart to continue to fight for those who have no voice.”

The 2020 letter that informed some of the new cannabis-related clemency actions was supported by Republican state lawmakers from Kansas, Maine and Missouri, as well as a former U.S. attorney, actor Danny Trejo, the New Haven, Missouri police chief and former New Mexico governor and former presidential candidate Gary Johnson. They were joined by representatives of groups like #cut50, Marijuana Policy Project and Law Enforcement Action Partnership.

Activists are cautiously optimistic that between the new Democratic Senate and the incoming presidential administration, this trend of drug war relief will continue. Despite a history of championing punitive anti-drug legislation during his time as a senator, President-elect Joe Biden has called those efforts a mistake and now backs some modest marijuana reforms.

Read the full list of new marijuana-related pardons and commutations below:

Ferrell Damon Scott – President Trump commuted the sentence of Ferrell Damon Scott. This commutation is supported by former Acting United States Attorney Sam Sheldon, who prosecuted his case and wrote that he “… strongly does not believe that [Mr. Scott] deserves a mandatory life sentence.” Ms. Alice Johnson, the CAN-DO Foundation, and numerous others also support clemency for Mr. Scott. Mr. Scott has served nearly 9 years of a life imprisonment sentence for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Under today’s sentencing guidelines, it is likely that Mr. Scott would not have received such a harsh sentence.

John Knock – President Trump commuted the sentence of John Knock. This commutation is supported by his family. Mr. Knock is a 73 year-old man, a first-time, non-violent marijuana only offender, who has served 24 years of a life sentence. Mr. Knock has an exemplary prison history, during which he completed college accounting classes and has had zero incident reports.

Anthony DeJohn – President Trump commuted the sentence of Anthony DeJohn. Mr. DeJohn has served more than 13 years of a life sentence for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Mr. DeJohn has maintained a clear disciplinary record and has been recognized for his outstanding work ethic while incarcerated. Mr. DeJohn has employment and housing available to him upon release.

Corvain Cooper – President Trump commuted the sentence of Mr. Corvain Cooper. Mr. Cooper is a 41 year-old father of two girls who has served more than 7 years of a life sentence for his non-violent participation in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

Way Quoe Long – President Trump commuted the sentence of Way Quoe Long. Mr. Long is a 58 year-old who has served nearly half of a 50-year sentence for a non-violent conviction for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana. Mr. Long has spent his incarceration striving to better himself through English proficiency classes and by obtaining his GED. Upon release, Mr. Long will reunite with his family and will be strongly supported as he integrates back into the community.

Michael Pelletier – President Trump commuted the sentence of Michael Pelletier. Mr. Pelletier is a 64 year-old who has served 12 years of a 30 year sentence for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Mr. Pelletier has maintained a clear disciplinary record, has thrived as an artist working with oil paints on canvas, and has taken several courses to perfect his skill while incarcerated. Upon his release, Mr. Pelletier will have a meaningful place of employment and housing with his brother.

Craig Cesal – President Trump commuted the sentence of Craig Cesal. Mr. Cesal is a father of two, one of whom unfortunately passed away while he was serving his life sentence for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Mr. Cesal has had an exemplary disciplinary record and has become a paralegal assistant and a Eucharistic Minister in the Catholic Church to assist and guide other prisoners. Upon his release, Mr. Cesal looks forward to reintegrating back into society and to contributing to his community while living with his daughter with whom he has remained close. Mr. Cesal hopes to be a part of her upcoming wedding.

Brian Simmons – President Trump commuted the sentence of Brian Simmons. Mr. Simmons has served 5 years of a 15 year sentence for a non-violent conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana. Mr. Simmons has had an exemplary prison record and upon release will have strong support from his fiancée and his community.

James Romans – President Trump commuted the sentence of James Romans. Mr. Romans is a father and a grandfather who received a life sentence without parole for his involvement in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Mr. Romans has had an exemplary disciplinary record for the more than 10 years he has served, and has completed a long list of courses. He has already secured job opportunities that will help him successfully re-enter society.

Jonathon Braun – President Trump commuted the sentence of Jonathan Braun. Mr. Braun has served 5 years of a 10-year sentence for conspiracy to import marijuana and to commit money laundering. Upon his release, Mr. Braun will seek employment to support his wife and children.

Noah Kleinman – President Trump commuted the sentence of Noah Kleinman. Mr. Kleinman is a 45-year old father of two children. The mother of his children unfortunately passed away during Mr. Kleinman’s incarceration. Mr. Kleinman has served 6 years of a nearly 20 year sentence for a non-violent crime to distribute marijuana. Mr. Kleinman has had an exemplary prison history and has worked to remain close to his children and his father. Upon release, he looks forward to living with his father, working for the family business, and caring for his children.

Lynn Barney – President Trump granted a full pardon to Lynn Barney. This pardon is supported by Senator Mike Lee, as well as numerous notable members of the Utah business community. Mr. Barney was sentenced to 35 months in prison for possessing a firearm as a previously convicted felon, after having previously been convicted for distributing a small amount of marijuana. Since his release from prison, Mr. Barney has been a model citizen and has devoted himself to his work and children. He is described by his employer as an exceedingly hard worker and a role model to other employees.

Biden Taps Marijuana Legalization Supporter To Lead Democratic National Committee

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Clears 12th And Final House Committee, Advancing To The Floor

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A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota has been approved by its final House committee and will now advance to the floor.

The road to get to this position has been long and winding, with 12 panels hearing and voting on the measure since it was introduced in February.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the proposal, which would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

Members of the House Ways & Means Committee approved the legislation in a 16-10 vote on Friday.

Winkler previously said that he expects a floor vote this month, though that has yet to be scheduled. The legislature is slated to adjourn on May 17.

The bill “helps to correct wrongs that have been done for too long in Minnesota to communities who’ve been over-policed who have been targeted for cannabis enforcement to further a prohibition of cannabis that does not work,” the majority leader said in opening remarks.

Winkler said that “legalizing and creating a safe marketplace by taxing cannabis and using the proceeds from those taxes to pay for cannabis regulation to help invest in a cannabis industry” would reflect “the values of Minnesotans and help to address the harm that is caused by cannabis prohibition on our black and brown communities.”

The panel adopted an amendment from Winkler that expands the definition of social equity applicants to include those from communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition and makes changes to how regulators would address rules violations by businesses. It would also revise the amount of funding for various state agencies, including a reduction in appropriations for the Department of Corrections.

A proposal to require that the label on marijuana products include information about the maximum dose that is considered safe within a 24-hour period was also approved.

An additional amendment that would have required marijuana products to be labeled with a warning that cannabis remains illegal under federal law was rejected.

Prior to taking up the legalization bill, members adopted an amendment to separate budget legislation that would provide funding for the implementation of the cannabis program for the first biennium, after which time marijuana tax revenue would more than cover costs.

It the measure does clear the full House chamber, it’s still expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.

That said, a GOP member of the Taxes Committee, which approved the legalization bill on Wednesday, indicated that he felt an amendment he introduced and that was adopted could bolster Republican support.

That revision from Rep. Pat Garofolo (R) directs remaining cannabis revenue to a tax relief account after implementation costs are covered and substance misuse treatment and prevention programs are funded.

“The adoption of this amendment is a gamechanger,” Garofalo said in a press release. “The Democrat majority accepting this amendment means that if signed into law, this bill will result in lowering taxes Minnesotans are FORCED to pay, financed with the revenue generated from taxes that people are CHOOSING to pay.”

Before the Taxes Committee, the bill passed the Health Finance and Policy Committee, Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, State Government Finance and Elections Committee, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.

“At the beginning of the year, a House committee had never passed a legalization bill. Now, we’re on the verge of passing a bill off the House floor,” Winkler said in an email to supporters on Friday. “We have the ability to change laws in a way that improves people’s lives, whether it’s expunging cannabis-related records, targeting economic opportunity for those impacted most by the war on drugs, providing relief for veterans suffering from PTSD and serious health conditions, and more.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The litany of committees the bill has gone through makes it perhaps the most thoroughly vetted legalization measure to move through a state legislature—and it means that a solid portion of the House has already had the chance to review, propose amendments to and vote on the legislation it as it advances to the floor, presumably increasing its chances of passage in the chamber.

The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.

Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.

The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.

People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.

Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

Wisconsin Governor’s Marijuana Legalization Proposal Stripped From Budget By GOP-Led Committee

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Feds Announce New Standard THC Dose To Be Used In Marijuana Research, Effective Immediately

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A top federal health agency announced on Friday that it has determined the standard dose of THC that should be used for marijuana studies moving forward.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) said in a notice to researchers that there is a “new requirement to measure and report results using a standard THC unit in all applicable human subjects’ research,” which is effective immediately. That standard unit is five milligrams of THC.

NIDA said that inconsistencies in measuring and reporting THC exposure “has been a major limitation in studies of cannabis use, making it difficult to compare findings among studies.” Therefore, a “standardized measure of THC in cannabis products is necessary to advance research by providing greater comparability across studies of both its adverse effects and potential medical uses.”

The agency recognized, however, that “the same quantity of THC may have different effects based on route of administration, other product constituents, an individual’s genetic make-up and metabolic factors, prior exposure to cannabis, and other factors.”

But by creating a standard THC dose, it will nonetheless be easier to compare studies that involve THC exposure, which is a “high priority” of NIDA and the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse.

“It is not the intent of this Notice to prescribe the quantity of THC that is permissible for use in research projects. Indeed, investigators are free to use more or less than 5mg of THC as appropriate for their study,” the notice states. “However, for applicable studies, investigators will be required to report the quantity of THC using the standard unit. Investigators may also report the quantity of THC in other units (e.g., milligrams) as appropriate.”

This comes one year after NIDA, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, first solicited feedback on a proposal to standardize THC content in cannabis research.

The agency said that it carried out “extensive stakeholder input,” along with “consultation with experts in the field,” to arrive at the decision to set the standard unit at 5 mg.

“This guidance will apply to applications where THC is a focus of the research,” the new notice continues. “Applicants are responsible for determining whether use of this standard unit is applicable to their research and for determining best approach to applying it in their research applications. A justification should be provided for research that does not propose to use the standard unit.”

NIDA Director Nora Volkow discussed the importance of establishing a standard THC unit in commentary published in the journal Addiction last year.

Citing research that calls for a five milligram THC standard, Volkow said she agreed with the study’s conclusion despite complicating factors. Those factors include potential issues related to the effect of having cannabis products with the same THC level but different concentrations of other cannabinoids such as CBD.

The complexities in research beyond having a standardized measure of THC “hardly negate the value” of setting one, Volkow said in her commentary. “In fact, having and using such a standard is a prerequisite for comparing the effects of various cannabis products on THC bioavailability, pharmacokinetics and pharmacological effects, which is knowledge fundamental to studies pertaining to medical use of cannabis.”

“Although cannabis remains an illicit substance in the United States, the expanded legalization by states requires us to develop the knowledge base that can help states develop policies to minimize risk from cannabis exposures, such as limits on the THC content of cannabis products,” she said.

Volkow has been vocal about the importance of streamlining and improving research into cannabis, and she’s laid partial blame for the the lack of studies on marijuana’s restrictive federal classification.

Kansas Senate Running Out Of Time To Pass Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill That Cleared House

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Kansas Senate Running Out Of Time To Pass Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill That Cleared House

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As advocates applaud the passage of a medical marijuana legalization bill in the Kansas House of Representatives, anxieties remain high over its prospects in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The chamber has days left being the end of the legislative veto session, and Senate leadership has signaled that they do not view the reform legislation as a priority.

“The Senate is not real high on the issue at this point” Senate President Ty Masterson (R) told an Associated Press reporter in a pun-filled text message on Thursday, adding that “we may roll it into a joint committee and see if we can weed out the issues.”

Whether he was serious about the joint committee or simply making an attempt at cannabis-related humor is unclear. A spokesperson for his office separately said that the chamber is focused on passing a budget bill and a school funding measure in the final days of the session.

“I can’t imagine we’d take the subject matter up this year,” Masterson said earlier this week ahead of the House vote.

If the Senate doesn’t take up the medical marijuana bill by May 11, it would still be alive for the second half of the legislative biennium that starts early in 2022 and could be acted upon then.

But even if senators do make time to establish a bicameral conference committee to consider the proposal, there are still serious doubts about whether the body would approve the resulting negotiated legislation. And defeat in the Senate this year would mean lawmakers would have to start the process all over again if they wanted to pursue the reform again next year.

Getting the bill to this stage alone has proved challenging.

It moved through the House Federal and State Affairs Committee after a series of hearings and onto the floor in March, but then it was rereferred to the panel for further consideration. Members then adopted several additional amendments before sending it back on the floor.

The legislation would establish a medical marijuana program for qualified patients. It lists about two dozen conditions that make a person eligible for cannabis, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Smoking and vaping products would be prohibited. The bill would also not provide for home growing.

The state would license medical cannabis growers, testing labs, processors distributors and retailers, and counties would be able to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their jurisdiction.

Patients would be able to purchase up to a 90 day supply of cannabis from licensed dispensaries, which would be regulated by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). That department would also be renamed the Division of Alcohol and Cannabis Control.

The secretary of the Department of Health and Environment would have to develop regulations to administer the medical cannabis program by July 1, 2023.

Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, supports medical cannabis and would be expected to sign a bill if it arrived on her desk.

She pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.

Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed. And with the small timeline before the session’s end, the time to apply that pressure would be now.

While both pieces of legislation would make it so Kansas would join the vast majority of states that have legal medical marijuana markets, advocates view them as restrictive, particularly as it concerns the limited methods of consumption that would be permitted.

A separate medical cannabis legalization bill was introduced by the Senate Commerce Commerce in February, though it has not seen action beyond being referred to another panel.

Alabama Governor Will Give Medical Marijuana Bill A ‘Thorough’ Review, Spokesperson Says

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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