President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders on Monday, two of which were for marijuana.
The president said the 46 prisoners had served sentences disproportionate to their crimes.
“These men and women were not hardened criminals, but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years,” he said. “I believe that at its heart, America is a nation of second chances. And I believe these folks deserve their second chance.”
According to the Washington Post, Monday’s commutations mark the most in a single day since the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Obama now has commuted 89 sentences, surpassing the combined number granted by presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Of the 89 commutations Obama has granted while in office, 76 have gone to nonviolent drug offenders.
“Right now, with our overall crime rate and incarceration rate both falling, we’re at a moment where some good people in both parties, Republicans and Democrats, and folks all across the country are coming together around ideas to make the system work smarter, make it work better,” Obama stated. “And I’m determined to do my part wherever I can. That’s one of the reasons why I’m commuting the sentences of 46 prisoners who were convicted many years, or in some cases decades, ago.”
Since the Obama administration announced last year that it would grant clemency to nonviolent drug offenders, more than 35,000 inmates, or about 17 percent of the federal prison population, have applied for early release.
Some have wondered however why more prisoners who are serving life sentences for non-violent marijuana crimes weren’t considered.
“I am thrilled for all the prisoners who received clemency, because I don’t believe any nonviolent drug offender belongs in prison. However I am deeply disappointed by the lack of clemencies being granted to marijuana prisoners, especially in light of the fact we have many senior citizens who have been incarcerated for decades, serving life without parole for nonviolent marijuana-only cases,” says Cheri Sicard, who advocates for imprisoned non-violent marijuana offenders.
Through her work with the CAN-DO Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, Sicard has organized letter writing campaigns on behalf of the prisoners, both requesting pardons, and to help inmates keep contact with the outside world. The foundation also raises money to put on the prisoner’s commissary so they can purchase goods, along with stamps, paper, and writing utensils so they can respond to letters they receive.
One of those prisoners is Paul Free who is serving life in prison for a crime some say he couldn’t have physically been able to commit. Free was charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana, however he was mixed up with another man named Paul Atkinson. Other defendants in the case even stated to their attorneys that he was not the person who they distributed marijuana with.
Sicard had another prisoner in mind as well, 83-year-old Antonio Bascaro who has served 35 years.
“Is that not enough punishment for pot? Send him home to his family,” Sicard stated.
According to the ACLU, marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting data, there were a total of 1.5 million drug arrests made nationwide in 2011, and out of those arrests, about 750,000 were for marijuana. This amounts to one marijuana arrest every 42 seconds and one drug arrest every 21 seconds in the U.S.
Most prisoners in prison for marijuana however are held in state lockup rather than federal, making most pardons fall to the duty of state governors.