The laws that govern marijuana have changed quite a bit over the last few decades – even at the federal level – and while that may be good for those of us who are still at risk for arrest, it does very little (in most cases, nothing at all) for the people who were arrested and convicted and are already sitting in federal prisons. In some cases, the crimes that people were arrested for would not even be considered crimes today. Former President Obama took notice of this, and during his second term granted clemency to more prisoners than any president before him.
In fact, during his last day in office, Obama commuted the sentences of 330 more prisoners – more than has ever been commuted in a single day before. This brought the total to 1,715 people who saw reduced sentences or pardons for crimes that would face different penalties if charged today. The majority of these people faced 20+ year sentences for nonviolent drug charges – many for cannabis – and had already served at least 10 years of their sentence.
For Bernard Smith, it offers him a second chance after being arrested in 2002 on marijuana and cocaine charges after he supplied the marijuana for a transaction to a friend – who ended up selling to undercover officers. After serving 12 years of his 22 year sentence, he will be released in January 2019, thanks to Obama.
Another man, Ricardo Montes, was also granted clemency. Montes and a friend, Luke Scarmazzo, were arrested by the DEA after operating a medical marijuana dispensary in Central Valley California from 2005-2007. Montes was sentenced to 20 years and Scarmazzo was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months – both have served about 9 years of their sentences so far and both applied for clemency, however, Montes was the only one of the two who was granted commutation of the remaining years on his sentence.
“With today’s action, the President has granted more commutations than any president in this nation’s history and has surpassed the number of commutations granted by the past 13 presidents combined,” the statement said. “The President set out to reinvigorate clemency, and he has done just that.”
While we had hoped that Obama would have done more to help move things forward with marijuana policy – at the very least making a move towards legalizing medical marijuana on a federal level – this was still an excellent start. Many of these people would not have ended up in federal prison over their crimes had they been committed today instead of ten, twenty or even thirty years ago. It was also nice to see Obama exercising his power to commute and pardon people who deserve it – freeing over a thousand people and setting an example we can hope that all future presidents will follow.