President Obama came into office promising “change we could believe in,” and while he hasn’t accomplished everything that Drug War reformers have hoped for, he has made some important steps forward, especially when it comes to granting clemency for nonviolent drug offenders. The 111 clemency petitions approved today, push Obama’s total granted to 673, far exceeding the number granted by his predecessors. The most recent batch included a Grateful Dead fan that was facing a life sentence for LSD.
Since President Obama was an admitted “Choom Gang” member in his youth, cannabis law reform advocates largely rallied behind the campaign of the then-senator from Illinois and many expected dramatic improvements right from the jump. Unfortunately, we were seriously disappointed when the Obama Administration continued to raid medical marijuana providers and the president laughed at the notion of entertaining the idea that cannabis should be legalized during a town hall.
During Obama’s second term, we started seeing some of the change that we needed, from him mentioning that marijuana isn’t any more dangerous than alcohol, to, most importantly, his administration’s directive to federal prosecutors to allow responsible state-regulated cannabis legalization laws to move forward without federal interference. There was hope that a cannabis could be removed from the Schedule I category that includes heroin and that a bipartisan criminal justice reform law could be passed, but those issues seem to have been lost, for now, in the politic ether that is Washington, D.C., today. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t made great progress and that the Obama Administration has been a completely lost cause for Drug War reformers.
By granting clemency 673 drug law offenders, President Obama has helped shine a light on the draconian sentences imposed as our nation has waged a war upon our own citizens, primarily upon the poor and communities of color, creating a new Jim Crow era. When we finally end the classist and racist Drug War, I think that we’ll look back upon the tenure of President Obama and see that he did a lot to roll back the damage done by previous presidents. We didn’t get all of the change that we needed, but when you are hungry for change, some change is better than none at all. #ThanksObama
Below is a press release the great folks at the Drug Policy Alliance sent out commemorating the latest round of clemency. If you are able, please make a donation to DPA and help them continue their great work around the globe.
President Obama Grants Clemency to 111 People
House is Set to Take Up Criminal Justice Reform Bills in September
Drug Policy Alliance: The President is Acting; Congress Must Step Up Too
Today, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 111 people incarcerated in federal prison, almost all for drug offenses. This brings his total number of clemencies granted to 673 people. Many of those who received commutations today were victims of the disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine.
President Obama has been pushed to do more to release those serving time in prison under harsh drug laws.
“The President is doing the right thing, but we hope to see many more commutations,” said Michael Collins, deputy director at DPA’s Office of National Affairs. ” We also need Congress to Act. Paul Ryan has promised a vote on the sentencing reform bill in September, and Mitch McConnell must do the same.”
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), includes reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal “safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand prison programming and early release, among other things. A similar bill, championed by Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), was introduced in the House. Both bills have strong bipartisan support, and are awaiting floor action.
In the House, Paul Ryan has promised that there will be a vote in September on criminal justice reform legislation. McConnell has said nothing.
“President Barack Obama has shown his commitment to fixing a broken criminal justice system by once again granting commutations to 111 individuals, ” said Tony Papa, media relations manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the Rockefeller Drug Laws for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. “With this repetitive granting of commutations I hope President Obama is sending a clear message to Congress to join him and help change draconian drug laws.”