Trump Grants Clemency to a Dozen Federal Pot Prisoners on His Final Day in Office
A dozen nonviolent cannabis offenders, many of whom were sentenced to life in prison just for selling weed, will now be able to move on with their lives.
Published on January 20, 2021

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On his last full day in office, former President Donald Trump granted clemency to 143 convicts, including political associates, famous rappers, and former cannabis offenders. 

It has become standard practice for an outgoing president to issue clemency to people who they feel are serving unjust sentences, and this is one tradition that Trump chose to follow. As expected, the former president pardoned Steve Bannon and other members of his campaign team who had been convicted on corruption charges. The list also included a few celebrities, including rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, who were serving time on weapons charges.

Beyond these notable exceptions, the majority of people who received clemency this year are regular Americans who have been serving excessive sentences for relatively minor crimes. Last November, a coalition of criminal justice reform advocates, celebrities, and lawmakers sent a letter to the White House arguing for clemency in hundreds of criminal cases. In total, the former president granted 73 pardons and 70 commutations, over three dozen of which were issued to people who had been sentenced to decades in prison for minor drug crimes. 

This list includes a dozen people who were sentenced to anywhere from 3 years to life in jail for committing nonviolent cannabis crimes. Two of these individuals, 73-year-old John Knock and 58-year-old Way Quoe Long, have already served nearly 25 years in prison each for distributing marijuana. Another notable inclusion on the list is Michael Pelletier, a 64-year-old paraplegic man who has served 12 years of a 30-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. 

Four years ago, activists lobbied President Obama to grant clemency to Knock, Pelletier, and many other cannabis offenders, but the former president chose to leave them in jail. Some advocates are surprised that Trump would grant mercy to offenders that Obama ignored, but activist Weldon Angelos told Marijuana Moment that he thinks Trump “is not a typical politician, and so he doesn’t make the same political calculations as other presidents.”

It's a great day for the dozens of drug offenders who will be set free from jail as a result of these new pardons, but thousands of other Americans will remain locked behind bars for minor pot crimes. Angelos, a cannabis offender who was pardoned by Trump last month, personally advocated for the case of Luke Scarmazzo, who was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for running a state-legal medical marijuana company in California.

Scarmazzo “was following state law—and they used his case to send the message,” Angelos explained. “He got charged under a kingpin statute, as though he was a cartel member, rather than providing medicinal cannabis for people that needed it.” Scarmazzo did receive clemency this year.

Alice Johnson, another non-violent drug offender whose sentence was commuted by Trump in 2018, said that today should be “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,” Marijuana Moment reports.

“While we celebrate today, let us not forget we still have laws in place that put nonviolent people in prison for life and there remain thousands behind bars today, who have paid their debt to society and who deserve a second chance to return home,” said Johnson, who ended up serving 21 years in prison just for trying to buy cocaine. “Today is just more fuel for the fire in my heart to continue to fight for those who have no voice.”

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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