As the media went apeshit over President Trump’s latest pardons for wealthy men convicted of fraud and corruption crimes, one person touched by his recent clemency campaign went relatively unnoticed: Crystal Munoz.
Munoz, a 40-year-old Navajo woman, would have remained in prison — isolated from her husband and two children — until 2027 under “conspiracy to traffic marijuana” charges. But Munoz was no drug lord nor even a drug mule; in reality, she caught a nearly 20-year-long federal prison sentence for simply drawing a map on notebook paper. And if that sounds absolutely insane, that’s because it is.
“Hundreds of people I have encountered over the years, beautiful people, who made a mistake, some who have been imprisoned for two decades and will die imprisoned, for their part in a drug conspiracy,” Munoz wrote to Rolling Stone in 2017 from the minimum-security women’s prison in Carswell, Texas. “It’s hard, and I try to make sense of it all, but there came a point when I just stopped trying to understand. You can’t.”
What happened? Sometime around 2004, Munoz’s then-friends cooked up a scheme to smuggle just over a literal ton — or about 2,200 pounds — of marijuana from Mexico through Big Bend National Park in Texas. Munoz didn’t actually transport any weed, nor did she even touch the plant. She simply drew a roadmap of the park for her buddies as a favor, and to this day, she insists that she didn’t know they would use it to circumvent a border checkpoint situated along their route.
But you know how it goes with snitches: Munoz’s buddies got caught slinging, and in exchange for reduced sentences, they ratted her out to the DEA as the head conspirator of their weed smuggling scheme.
On Tuesday, however, President Trump commuted Munoz’s sentence. She’s now a free woman, though she’ll never get those years back that she lost to a wayward War on Drugs.
Neither Trump nor the White House have issued any statements regarding Munoz’s clemency. Trump has, in the past, pardoned other non-violent drug offenders just as his predecessor, Barack Obama, did.
And while Obama and Trump may get brownie points for defying the federal justice system and freeing victims of the drug war, keep in mind that both of these men have done practically nothing to actually reform the nation’s excessively harsh drug laws. While they may have received praise for using their presidential powers to help less fortunate Americans incarcerated for unjust drug crimes, there are still thousands upon thousands of people rotting in prisons for non-violent drug offenses. And for every day that Trump chooses not to do anything about the War on Drugs, more Americans will keep going to prison for victimless crimes.
In fact, right now, Trump could make history by doing something that Obama couldn’t do: He could pressure the US Senate, which is controlled by his Republican Party, to pass the MORE Act — and not only federally legalize weed but also expunge criminal records for people like Munoz. However, in order for the MORE Act to even end up in the Senate, the Democrat-controlled House would need to vote for its approval first.
However, as of Wednesday, Trump likely won’t support the MORE Act or any other kind of cannabis or drug law reform, according to one of his top campaign spokespeople.
“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” said Marc Lotter, the Trump 2020 campaign’s director of strategic communications, Forbes reported just as the Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Las Vegas for the most heated debate of the race so far.
“They need to be kept illegal,” Lotter continued. “That is the federal policy.”
Trump’s latest spate of pardons and clemency, of course, didn’t go down without an explosion of controversy. His other clemency recipients included Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who tried to sell Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat in 2009. He also pardoned Paul Pogue, the owner of a construction company who was convicted of tax fraud; Pogue's family recently donated $200,000 to Trump’s reelection campaign. Munoz’s commutation, unsurprisingly, has been the least controversial — and the least talked about.