Earlier this week, the Biden administration announced plans to offer clemency to a relatively small number of inmates serving time for federal drug offenses. But although the president is finally taking small steps to fulfill his promise to reduce mass incarceration, he actually has the power to go even further, by issuing mass pardons to each and every prisoner who is serving time for nonviolent weed crimes.
On Tuesday, a group of over 150 celebrities, athletes, politicians, and law enforcement members delivered a letter to the president urging him to use his pardoning powers to make good on his promise. “Enough is enough,” the letter states, according to Marijuana Moment. “No one should be locked up in federal prison for nonviolent marijuana offenses. No one should continue to bear the scarlet letter of a federal conviction for marijuana offenses of the past.”
The letter was coordinated by Weldon Angelos, a former federal pot prisoner who received clemency last year. Angelos collected more than 150 signatures in support of his advocacy effort, including famous rappers like Drake, Killer Mike, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, T.I., and Ty Dolla $ign. The long list of signatures also includes athletes Al Harrington, Deion Sanders, and Kevin Garnett, as well as New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R/L), former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham (R-SC), and state lawmakers from Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
The War on Drugs “has crushed many souls and countless futures, while spreading intolerable levels of mistrust and dysfunction between minority communities and those sworn to protect them,” the letter reads. “The harms of incarceration are obvious, but the pains of federal marijuana convictions transcend prison walls, making it more difficult for someone to get a job, access affordable housing, and receive an education. A conviction can forever limit an individual’s constitutional rights and can put the American dream further out of reach for an entire family.”
In addition to reminding the president that he has the authority to issue mass pardons, the letter also notes that there is an existing precedent for offering relief. In the 1970s, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter issued mass pardons to thousands of Americans who dodged the Vietnam War draft. The advocates argue that “a general clemency will send a clear and powerful message that our country is truly taking a new course on criminal justice policy and practice.”
The letter also includes a long list of nonviolent pot offenders who could be eligible for pardons, including Ralo, a rapper who was sentenced to eight years for trafficking weed. In a press release, Ralo thanked advocates “for supporting my clemency because it’s just not right that corporations are allowed to violate federal law and become millionaires while people like myself go to prison for years,” Marijuana Moment reports. “This is hypocrisy.”
The advocates' letter arrived just one day after the White House announced its own plans to grant clemency to federal drug prisoners. So far, the feds have only made this offer to prisoners who are serving the last four years of their sentence under home confinement – which only amounts to around 1,000 people. But according to the Last Prisoner Project, an advocacy group working to find clemency for cannabis convicts, around 40,000 Americans are currently locked behind bars for nonviolent pot crimes.
Despite his campaign promises to free nonviolent drug offenders from jail, the president's track record on cannabis and criminal justice reform has been pretty dismal. Other than this limited clemency proposal, Biden has yet to discuss offering presidential pardons, and his administration has even fired staffers who have gotten high in the past. And instead of supporting Congress' new federal legalization bills, the president is pushing for a far less progressive pot reform policy that would do nothing to grant relief to the thousands of prisoners serving time for weed crimes.