Marijuana prisoners push Biden to honor his promise to free them
WASHINGTON — On the eve of the 4/20 cannabis holiday, federal inmates are once again wondering if and when President Biden will fulfill his 2020 campaign promise to release “everyone” locked up for marijuana.
About 2,700 inmates are behind federal bars on pot-related charges — even though 18 states and DC now allow recreational use of the drug and two-thirds of Americans support legalization.
Among them is Pedro Moreno, 62, who is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to distributing weed imported from Mexico from 1986 to 1996.
“I will die in jail for marijuana unless I receive clemency from the executive,” Moreno, 62, told The Post.
“All I can do is hope President Biden meant it when he said he would release all the prisoners from the pot.”
Clemency advocates recently met with White House staff and believe Biden could eventually step in. But that might not happen anytime soon as other initiatives take priority, such as commuting the sentences of those temporarily released from prison due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not easy to hold on to hope when year after year goes down the calendar and I watch my grandchildren grow up while I wait for a second chance,” Moreno said. “I want to hug my daughter, Alejandra, and see her eyes light up with happiness. It’s all I dream about, it’s what keeps me going.
Luke Scarmazzo, 41, served 14 years of a 22-year sentence for running a medical marijuana operation in California and told the Post he was also struggling to keep hope alive.
“When President Biden made these statements during the election campaign, my family and I had great hope that our nightmare was finally coming to an end,” Scarmazzo said. “We are now almost two years into President Biden’s term and we wonder when he will keep his promise.”
Donald Fugitt, 37, noted how the country has changed in the decade since his arrest in 2013.
“Still 4/20 and everyone is smoking and making money, but I’m still in a COVID-19 infested prison,” said Fugitt, a North Texas native who is out in 2024 unless Biden decides. reduce his pain. “I have accepted responsibility for my participation in a marijuana conspiracy. Everyone on my case is home except me. It was my first offence. »
Potted federal detainees include Lance Gloor, 43, who still has two years of a 10-year sentence for running dispensaries in Washington that he says sold legal medical marijuana, though federal prosecutors won’t did not agree. Gloor’s mother, Tracie Gloor Pike, says he had a severe case of COVID-19 last year and is suffering from rare complications.
“A sinus infection has spread all over his face, eyes and ears. He is now anemic and asthmatic. When I talk to Lance, he often says, ‘Mom, don’t let me die here,'” Pike said, adding, “President Biden can end this nightmare if he just honors his campaign promise and gives the priority to marijuana prisoners who need his mercy.
Biden, as a senator, drafted some of the toughest drug laws in the country, but he pivoted ahead of the 2020 election with promises of massive clemency as he fended off younger Democratic rivals who backed legalization.
Biden said during a 2019 debate, “I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period. And I think everyone – anyone with a criminal record – should be released from prison, their records expunged, completely zeroed out.
But Biden has yet to use his clemency powers to free anyone from jail and even treated the idea as a joke.
When The Post asked Biden in November if he would pardon all marijuana inmates on Thanksgiving, he laughed at the idea and said it would be “just turkeys” getting a reprieve.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki deflected requests for the release of prisoners from the pot, telling the Post last year, “I have nothing new to tell you, but the president is of course looking for to use his powers of mercy. He talked about his approach or his perspective on non-violent drug offenders.
A recent Gallup poll found that 68% of Americans, including half of Republicans, support legalizing pot, and federal legalization is widely seen as inevitable due to overwhelming support from young adults. House Democrats passed a federal legalization bill this month, but it is unlikely to reach Biden’s desk due to opposition from Senate Republicans and a handful of Democrats. .
Since 2012, 18 states, two territories and Washington, DC have legalized recreational marijuana under local law. Most other states allow marijuana for medical purposes.
Weldon Angelos, a former federal marijuana inmate and co-founder of the group Mission Green, helped craft a column that would ensure only nonviolent prisoners were released and told the Post he had been involved in talks with the House. White.
“Candidate Biden has promised to use his power of pardon to release those still federally incarcerated for cannabis offenses, which has given many hopes,” Angelos said. “We have had a number of conversations with the White House on this topic and believe Biden will deliver on his campaign promise. When that happens, it’s a whole different matter, but we are encouraged.
Kyle Kazan, a former California police officer turned cannabis businessman who works with Angelos on advocacy efforts, said: “For me, the biggest disappointment of Joe Biden’s presidency has been the delay of his administration. to end the terrible duality in which a multi-billion dollar industry is underway. built in violation of the same laws that are wasting away thousands of people in prison.
“President Biden and I were both part of the failed war on drugs, and I hope he will fix this ugly part of our history and acknowledge the folly of his policies by honoring his campaign pledge,” Kazan added.
Amy Povah, founder of the CAN-DO Foundation, which advocates for clemency for nonviolent offenders, told the Post, “I don’t know why we’re still waiting for President Biden to release all pot prisoners.
Povah said, however, that “I am encouraged to see that there is a new clemency attorney,” Elizabeth Oyer, who will be reviewing the clemency papers.
“[Oyer is] a former court-appointed lawyer. She’s a refreshing choice since former pardon attorneys were typically prosecutors who often had a punitive mindset toward candidates,” Povah said.
Biden has built a mixed record on marijuana since taking office.
Outraged by pot advocates, the White House last month proposed a federal budget that would keep in place a long-running policy barring local DC authorities from taking steps to regulate hobby shops. And last year, Biden fired at least five White House staffers who admitted to using pot in the past, despite the fact that Vice President Kamala Harris is also an acknowledged former user.
Support for marijuana reform and clemency doesn’t quite line partisan lines.
In January 2021, then-President Donald Trump commuted the sentences of seven people serving life sentences for marijuana – including two men who were sentenced to life without parole under the provision of three strokes of the Biden-drafted Crime Act of 1994.
Michael Pelletier, a 65-year-old paraplegic in a wheelchair, was among those freed by Trump. He was sentenced to life for smuggling Canadian cannabis into Maine before both recreational markets were legalized.
“I thank President Trump every day for waking me up to a comfortable bed in a beautiful Florida home surrounded by a loving family, rather than the shrill sound of the PA system announcing another lockdown due to violence,” said Peltier.
“It breaks my heart to know that there are still people serving life without parole for cannabis. I hope Biden releases all of the pot prisoners because I personally know several people who voted for him solely on the basis of this campaign promise.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.