Donald Trump left his mark on the marijuana world after granting clemency to 12 cannabis prisoners on his way out of the White House early Wednesday morning.
Feature photo source: Unsplash
This was his last and rarely seen act of mercy before leaving office on Inauguration day.
The twelve presidential pardons came after previous rounds of pardons for different offenders associated with other drugs, fraud and tax evasion. In total, Trump gave clemency to 144 prisoners including celebrities and family.
Various activists and advocates played a huge role in Trump’s clemency decision
As acknowledged by one of the clemency recipients, the pardons went through largely because of the work different industry activists and advocates put in.
It has been a long time coming for some of the activists who forwarded Trump a list of suitable candidates approximately two months ago.
In the letter, they laid down their case for the 24 cannabis prisoners who mostly consisted of non-violent offenders serving long, unsubstantiated sentences. Some had been charged with life in prison proving the flaws in the justice system.
The petitioners argued that while marijuana legalization and decriminalization struggles to solidify its place in the US, clemency would be the best tool for the 24.
They believed it was the role of executive clemency to provide justice.
“Given the timidity of this proposed legislation, the gridlock in Congress, and the imperative of freedom, clemency is the right tool to fix this problem,” it continues. “You and you alone have the power to call out a grand hypocrisy of prior administrations. While cannabis became a thriving, legal market and enriched many, your predecessors ignored the people who were—and are—serving long federal terms for doing the same thing.”
Craig Cesal speaks after receiving clemency
Craig Cesal was among the latest clemency recipients who spoke to journalists after the presidential pardon.
The 61-year-old was serving a life sentence for conspiracy to distribute cannabis. He was charged with working in cahoots with smugglers to bring marijuana into Georgia from Mexico using his trailers.
Cesal, who was released to home confinement back in June was ecstatic about the reprieve. He got the news straight from Trump’s daughter Ivanka via phone call.
“It feels like a new life, even though I don’t even know the terms yet. Just to know that I won’t have to go back to the prison after COVID abates is a huge relief,” he said.
While incarcerated, Cesal never showed any signs of aggression or indiscipline and was referred to as a model prisoner with an an exemplary disciplinary record.
Just like many wrongfully charged prisoners, Cesal pursued the law while locked up and became a paralegal assistant.
Cesal was overjoyed and thanked the activists who forwarded his case to the White House.
“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.”
Michael J. Pelletier among those granted clemency
64-year-old Michael Pelletier’s case was unlike any other among those granted clemency on Wednesday.
The Aroostook County man was serving a life sentence for conducting a marijuana smuggling enterprise. Pelletier asked to be released after serving 13 years on the grounds that he had health problems. He’s been a paraplegic since age 11.
His lawyer Scott Hess criticized the justice system for the unfair charges levied on non-violent offenders.
“Michael’s case is a prime example of the need to reexamine our laws and mandatory minimums as they apply to non-violent offenders,” Scott Hess of Augusta said.
“This is especially true where so many persons are incarcerated as a result of conduct that has now been legalized on the state level.”
Advocate Alice Johnson spoke up about the pardons issued by Trump
Alice Johnson, a former marijuana convict who received presidential commutation in 2018, expressed enthusiasm at the recent wave of pardons.
“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.