February 22, 2021 09:53 am ETEstimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
Note: Veriheal does not support or endorse any political candidate or their policies. We merely report on the facts as they are presented and their implications in regards to cannabis.
Former President Donald Trump spent his last days in office issuing pardons to a wide variety of people. A lot of media attention has focused on the pardons he gave to people in his administration, those close to him, and those who had worked with him or directly aligned themselves with him. But Trump pardoned 74 people on his last day in office and commuted the sentences of an additional 70. Not all of those pardon recipients were members of his administration.
And whatever your personal political leanings might be, it’s important to acknowledge that some of these pardons were a good thing. Bipartisan support is growing for cannabis law reform, and in such politically fraught times like these, anything that has bipartisan support definitely merits extra consideration. Fully a dozen of Trump’s last-minute pardons went to individuals incarcerated on cannabis-related convictions.
The Commutations and Pardons
Most of the offenders had their sentences commuted—meaning they had their sentences reduced to time served and were released from incarceration. This is less preferable than a full pardon, which would expunge the conviction from the person’s criminal record—especially since some of these people live in states where cannabis has since been legalized. Still, a commutation is certainly better than nothing.
Several people were in prison serving life sentences. Craig Cesal, 61, was imprisoned for intent to distribute from Illinois, where cannabis is now legal. Cesal has served 18 years of his sentence, and he never actually earned a dime from cannabis distribution.
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Then there’s Noah Kleinman of California, who served six years after arrest for illegal distribution. Kleinman was sentenced to 20 years in prison. What makes his case frustrating is that medical cannabis was legal in California when he was arrested, and recreational cannabis was legalized only two years later. Kleinman served four years of his sentence after California had legalized recreational cannabis and had it not been for his sentence being commuted, he would have served fourteen more.
Way Quoe Long has served a devastating twenty-five years of a fifty-year sentence already. Now that sentence is being commuted, but you can never give someone twenty-five years of their life back.
All of these men, just like most of the recipients of Trump’s cannabis conviction commutations, were arrested for nonviolent crimes. Most of the recipients received life-altering sentences, many of them life sentences or worse. And most of them are now receiving commutations of those sentences rather than pardons. They will be released from the confines of incarceration and given the chance to rebuild their lives. But in a world where cannabis legalization is spreading, too many people have sacrificed too much.
In the meantime, we all have work to do. We must put pressure on our elected officials to repair the damage done by the War on Drugs and to restore nonviolent cannabis offenders to their homes and their lives. No one should be serving a life sentence for something that today would be considered legal. Hopefully, in the coming months and years, we will see many more cannabis convictions being overturned, and the offenders pardoned and permitted to resume their lives.
Kat Helgeson comes from a ten year career in social media marketing and content creation. She takes pride in her ability to communicate the culture and values of an organization via the written word. Kat is also the author of numerous books for young adults. Her titles have received the Junior Library Guild Award, the Bank Street College of Education Best Books of the Year Distinction, and been featured on the Illinois Reads selection list. Her work has been translated into Dutch and German.
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