He hasn’t taken the classiest road out of office, but at least President Donald Trump has used his power in the waning hours of his time in office to grant clemency to a couple of unfairly imprisoned cannabis offenders. Too bad he stopped so quickly.
Activist and music producer Weldon Angelos was sentenced to 55 years in prison without parole for selling cannabis to an undercover officer on three separate occasions, totaling $350 altogether. Angelos was allegedly carrying a concealed handgun at the time of his arrest, leading to a sentencing that many cannabis advocates have highlighted as an example of overly harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The case became national news when the presiding judge quit his job following the case to become an advocate on Angelos’ behalf. Angelos’ sentence was eventually commuted, and he was given his freedom in 2016, but Trump’s pardon will now fully expunge the man’s record and he will no longer be considered a felon.
But Angelos said his pardon wasn’t enough to address the crimes committed against cannabis users by their own government.
“I believe pardons and commutations should be so regular that they do not generate headlines. We need more of this, and I hope the President shows mercy on those unjustly serving time for cannabis-related offenses,” he says. “My organization [The Weldon Project] has brought many qualifying candidates to his attention, and I’m hopeful we will see some of them released before he leaves office.” President Trump failed to follow Angelos’ suggestion, however, and chose to grant clemency to only two other nonviolent cannabis offenders.
According to the press secretary, Cesar Lozada is an immigrant from Cuba who started a small business cleaning and servicing pools in Florida. In 2004 Lozada was convicted of conspiring to distribute cannabis. He served a sentence of 14 months in prison and three years supervised release and paid a $10,000 fine. Since his release Lozada volunteers regularly at a charity mission and has become a model citizen in his community. His record was fully expunged of the marijuana offense.
Texas woman and mother of two Crystal Munoz was first granted clemency by President Trump last February, commuting a nearly 20-year sentence, of which she’d served 12 years. She was released under supervision. Munoz was arrested in 2007 for allegedly conspiring to distribute more than 2,200 pounds of illegal cannabis. She has maintained that the only role she played in the sale was to draw a map used by drug traffickers but that her lawyer failed to properly represent her case.
“I was definitely over sentenced, and there are thousands of women and men that are just like myself who are serving very severe sentences for the crimes they committed,” Munoz told Fox News reporters.
Munoz’ sentence was fully commuted by the president. No other offenders have been pardoned, however.
In 2019 Trump pardoned Roy Wayne McKeever, who pleaded guilty in 1989 to transporting cannabis from Mexico to Oklahoma.
A state district judge recently ruled that the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center will have to provide incarcerated qualifying marijuana patients access to medical cannabis.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, 2nd Judicial District Judge Lucy Solimon’s new ruling is related to a case in which Albuquerque resident Joe Montaño was sentenced to 90 days of house arrest for allegedly driving drunk in 2019. One of the conditions of the sentence was that he not use any illegal drugs while under house arrest.
But Montaño continued to use medical cannabis that he’d purchased legally as a participant enrolled in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program while serving the sentence, leading to prosecutors accusing him of violating his sentence. He was sent back to jail for more than 30 days for the alleged offense.
Montaño’s attorney, State Sen. Jacob Candelaria (D-Albuquerque), filed a motion in July seeking an order to allow incarcerated cannabis patients access to their medicine. After hearing the case, Solimon not only ruled in favor of cannabis patients under house arrest, she ruled that all cannabis patients in Bernalillo County jails will have to be given access to medical marijuana. The ruling applies to patients on probation as well.
Candelaria told reporters he’ll be ready to bring legal charges against any facility that tries to buck the new rules.
Senate minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says that the legalization of recreational cannabis at the federal level is still a possibility—even if Republicans remain in control of Congress.
In a publicly available video of a conversation between Schumer and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Schumer said that if he becomes Senate majority leader in the coming weeks, cannabis legalization will become a priority for Senate Democrats. But he also said that even if Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remains in control, the populist movement behind legalization might be enough to push lawmakers to enact reforms.
“But on the issue of marijuana,” he said, “I believe even—god forbid—I’m not majority leader, I believe that the pressure on McConnell is going to increase and we could make some progress.”
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