After voters in California approved Prop 64 back in November, local policymakers shifted their focus towards loosening the laws against recreational cannabis use. While penalties for minor pot crimes have been effectively eliminated, there is still a number of Californians who remain behind bars on marijuana-related federal charges.
According to a study conducted by the Drug Policy Alliance, in 2015 alone, more than 2,100 people in California were incarcerated for offenses strictly pertaining to cannabis. After recreational legalization was approved, hundreds of these prisoners have filed petitions to have their charges dropped. Additionally, a number of pending cannabis-related cases that would have resulted in jail time were overturned.
While many of these inmates have seen success in these cases, those jailed for federal charges have not received the same leniency. Although data on the amount of Californians doing time for cannabis-related federal crimes is currently unknown, drug policy experts estimate that hundreds remain locked up. In many cases, these prisoners are serving sentences that are 20 years or longer.
The story of Luke Scarmazzo was recently told by California Today, a West Coast news syndicate of The New York Times. In 2008, the Modesto man was sentenced to 22 years for marijuana distribution and running a criminal enterprise. Scarmazzo and his partner, Ricardo Montes, argued that they were operating a medical marijuana dispensary.
Both men appealed for a pardon under former President Barack Obama, but only Montes was granted one. The 36-year-old Scarmazzo was not offered an explanation as to why his was denied, but some supporters believe that it may have stemmed from a prior assault conviction. As of now, Scarmazzo will remain imprisoned at the Mendota Federal Correctional Institution until 2027.
While the state of California, continues trailblazing the way towards for legalized cannabis, cases like Scarmazzo’s proves that federal illegality still has a long-lasting effect across the country. Throughout 2016, more than 3,500 people across the nation were slapped with federal charges for cannabis-related crimes.
While it might seem like the Left Coast offers a solid safe-haven to escape from federal cannabis persecution, for some Californians justice has yet to be served.