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This 4/20 Tell Obama You Want Clemency For Prisoners Serving a Life Sentence For Marijuana

Obama Visits Prison Cell.
 Obama Visits Prison Cell by Doug Mills/The New York Times


This 4/20 Tell Obama You Want Clemency For Prisoners Serving a Life Sentence For Marijuana

The United States Department of Justice has been making a lot of noise lately about reducing prison populations, to the point of seeking out suggestions from attorneys for clemency candidates.

A new petition directed at President Obama offers a simple, viable way to begin the process: grant a mass clemency to nonviolent drug offenders serving life sentences.

Penned by Beth Curtis of, 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.

Curtis, whose brother John Knock has been incarcerated since 2000 on a first time, nonviolent marijuana offense says, “The War on Drugs has been an equally divisive war imprisoning generations of men and women.”

In Knock’s case, along with others like 1986 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Randy Lanier, prosecutors failed to present so much as a seed of physical evidence.

Those serving life for marijuana usually have other common threads running through their tragic stories:

  • Defendants are encouraged and sometimes even bullied and intimidated into pleading guilty to a lesser charge to avoid a trial and in order to guarantee lesser prison time. A high percentage of those serving life exercised their sixth amendment right to trial and paid a heavy price in the form of a many fold sentencing enhancement for that brave decision.
  • Many were charged and prosecuted for conspiracy with only cooperating witnesses and informants giving testimony. The people testifying against the people who ended up with life sentences were often trying to avoid prison time themselves and had no problem indicting others in order to do so.

In the case of Paul Free, who has been warehoused away in federal prison for the last two decades, a DEA agent who committed the crime threatened and intimidated witnesses into fingering Free for the deed.

Twenty years later the rogue DEA agent who intimidated witnesses has died and Free now has affidavits from witnesses recanting their earlier testimony and swearing to the fact that Paul Free is not the man who did these crimes.  When all is said and done, however, the crimes still remain nonviolent marijuana offenses.

Most of these inmates were sentenced under mandatory minimums and enhanced sentencing guidelines. They are senior citizens who are aging in prison after already having served considerable time. Randy Lanier has been behind bars since 1987.

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.

The petition leaves the details of the 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 and I have 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 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.

The organizers, along with the families of those serving life sentences are hoping for a strong show of public support on this petition with the plans to use it 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. This petition will spread awareness of an issue most American don’t even realize exists, as well as gather supporters to help in efforts to finally get these men released while they still have a few years left to spend with their loved ones.

Sign the Petition

Did you sign the petition? Will you share it with your social networks? Tell us in the comments below!

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