01.05.2017
policy

Hey, Barack Obama: Time Is Ticking Down to Pardon Pot Lifers

Please let these people go.

President Barack Obama is in the homestretch of establishing his administration’s legacy. He has a very limited number of days left in which to do a few very decent and just things.

On his way out of office, Obama is being lauded (or the opposite of that) for enacting last-minute policy to preserve Planned Parenthood funding and conserve public lands. But Obama’s friends and foes alike know there’s really nothing to stop the new guy coming in from reversing those actions.

There is one thing Obama has done, and can do more of, that incoming Commander in Chief Donald Trump and his hard-charging cabinet picks could not undo: Freeing drug war prisoners.

At current count, the current President has granted clemency to 1,324 imprisoned Americans, mostly for drug charges. The great thing about releasing nonviolent pot felons from prison is that it’s like releasing genies from bottles: No one can put them back in again.

A January 5, 2017, Politico feature story argues that Obama—who disappointed many in the weed world by failing to push cannabis-policy reform—could make a big statement on legalizing pot by granting a pardon to John “Johnny” Boone.

Starting in the 1970s, Kentucky-bred Boone cultivated and moved tons of weed as a kingpin in the so-called Cornbread Mafia. A fugitive for the past eight years, Boone was captured by border agents in a Montreal, Canada, shopping mall on December 22, 2016. He will almost certainly be extradited to face felony marijuana charges in America, will probably be convicted, and can expect to die in a federal prison, no matter how old he manages to become.

Boone’s only real hope of evading prison is if President Obama steps in and preemptively frees him. That release seems unlikely, although Politico holds out hope:

Obama would have to radically accelerate a process that usually takes months, and to leap-frog over thousands of other applicants who filed their paperwork in the correct way. But, if the Obama administration wanted to make a clear and irrevocable statement about marijuana, granting a January pardon to Boone would be a good way to do it.
Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, thinks Boone's chances are slim but says that Boone’s punishment should take into account the “rapidly evolving” attitudes toward marijuana. “The consequences for his actions shouldn't be so completely bizarre. In a rational world, he wouldn’t be looking at any time in prison.”

The differences in marijuana law between the 1980s—when Boone and many of the 420 POWs serving life without parole began picking up weed convictions—and today are obvious. Some form of medical or recreational marijuana is now legal in 29 states. Give or take 60 percent of Americans will respond to a Gallup poll saying they favor legal marijuana. The President of this country admits to having smoked tons of weed, apparently to no long-term ill effect, and one of his daughters was caught on film quite likely partaking.

American society does not benefit from housing a bunch of old dudes behind bars for dealing weed. In a sense, their most damaging crime was being ahead of their time. 

Clearly neither Obama the dad or the daughter would have benefited from doing jail time for their dealings with weed. And, though the cases are not parallel, American society does not benefit from housing a bunch of old dudes behind bars for dealing weed. In a sense, their most damaging crime was being ahead of their time. 

Beth Curtis started Life for Pot in 2008 in response to her younger brother, John Knock, a first time nonviolent offender, being saddled with two life terms plus 20 years stemming from three pot conspiracy charges.

Curtis's website, Life for Pot, launched in 2009. It highlights several old men, and a few middle-aged ones, who have spent years behind bars waiting out a slow-motion death sentence for weed infractions. The site presents case histories, photos, current clemency dispositions, and links to petitions seeking the release of so-called offenders who have essentially engaged in an activity that brought $135 million of tax revenue to the state of Colorado in 2015 alone.

All of that legal weed progress, along with the hopes of weed offenders behind bars, may well be stuffed back into the bottle once Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is approved as United States Attorney General. In November 2016, When Donald Trump announced his intention of installing Sessions as America's top cop, something like shock waves rippled through the marijuana industry. Not everyone concerned is adopting a wait-and-see attitude toward Sessions.

The Drug Policy Alliance launched its “Just Say No to Jeff Sessions for Attorney General Campaign” on January 4, 2017. If he becomes Attorney General, Sessions will head the Department of Justice as the U.S. government’s chief law-enforcement officer and lawyer. He will oversee the DEA, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, and the ATF. In this position, Sessions could ensure that life sentences become all the rage for a whole new generation of marijuana entrepreneurs who have up until now thought of themselves as legitimate, tax-paying businesspeople. 

An anti-Sessions video (above) released by the Drug Policy Alliance cannot be faulted for any shortage of earnest passion, but it’s efficacy against the attitudes and actions of the regime taking power January 20 will probably be limited.

Just how crowded the near future will be with fresh marijuana felons is something all of us can only speculate upon from here.

As for now, the power to free today’s 420 POWs resides solely in President Obama’s pen, and it won't be there for long.

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