Here’s what you can do to help end this barbaric practice
By Cheri Sicard
“What country are these men incarcerated in?”
The question posed to film maker Amy Povah (420, the Documentary), while standing in front of the White House carrying signs calling for the release of prisoners serving life sentences for nonviolent marijuana crimes, came from a government worker.
The government worker was shocked to learn that the men pictured on the signs, Paul Free, Randy Lanier, Craig Cesal, John Knock, and Larry Duke, are all serving LIFE SENTENCES for marijuana right here in the good old USA, and they are not the only ones.
While the country celebrates legalization in Colorado and Washington and loosening of marijuana laws nearly everywhere, activist Adela Falk has identified 29 men (and still counting) serving sentences of life without possibility of parole for nonviolent marijuana crimes. Some, like 1986 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Randy Lanier, were first offenders and have been behind bars for nearly 30 years!
More often than not, trumped up conspiracy charges are the culprits. Prosecutors want to convict people, and they really don’t care who it is, so long as there is a conviction. In most of these cases, the true “kingpins,” the people in charge, did little to no prison time while people who worked under them are serving life.
To make matters worse, anyone who exercises their Constitutional right to take their case to trial gets sentenced far more harshly than they would had they accepted a plea deal.
Lest you think these draconian sentences are a relic of past ignorant reefer madness thinking, know that the practice continues.
James Romans received his federal life sentence in February 2013. Recently convicted medical marijuana provider Noah Kleinman faces a possible life sentence at his upcoming September 2014 sentencing hearing. Like all federal cases where marijuana is considered illegal regardless of state laws, Kleinman’s jury never heard a word about state legal medical marijuana.
For these men and others like them, whose sentences offer no possibility of parole, Presidential clemency remains their only hope.
A new Change.org petition, penned by Beth Curtis of LifeForPot.com, whose brother John Knock is one of these prisoners, offers an easy way the President could remedy the situation: Grant Mass Clemency to Nonviolent Drug Offenders Serving Life Sentences.
The petition models its suggestion on historical mass clemencies like those granted by Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter to Selective Service Act violators during the Vietnam War. Systemic clemency has been used frequently throughout the history of our country and is a Presidential tool and responsibility that is usually used to restore justice when retribution has caused a rift in the social fabric. The war on drugs is our contemporary example of this excess.
Curtis’s simple common sense solution is something nearly everyone can agree on. Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, hardly anyone thinks it is a good idea to waste tax dollars locking nonviolent marijuana offenders away for life with violent criminals who pose actual threats to society are regularly released.
The petition leaves the details clemency to the President’s discretion but includes suggestions for reasonable guidelines, such as a group commutation for those who have served 10 years and/or reached the age of 60.
Curtis debated the wisdom of including all nonviolent drug offenders serving life in the petition and ultimately opted to do so as the public is no longer complacent about the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and cocaine and the President has shown sympathy towards, and granted clemency for, some crack cocaine prisoners caught in in this sentencing gap. In these cases the petition simply suggests the President commute life sentences when time served equals the time of incarceration for same weight cocaine offenses.
Cannabis and prison reform activists, along with the families and friends of those serving life sentences are hoping for a strong show of public support on this petition as the inmates can use it to bolster new clemency efforts currently being drafted.
It only makes logical sense to stop the cruel and unusual practice of incarcerating inmates for life for nonviolent, victimless crimes.
Editor’s note: Cheri Sicard is a dedicated cannabis and prison reform activist, the author of The Cannabis Gourmet Cookbook (2012 Z-Dog Media) and Mary Jane: The Complete Handbook to Marijuana for Women (available 4-20-15). Her blog is www.CannabisCheri.com.