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Trump gave last-minute clemency to a dozen people convicted of marijuana offenses

·5 min read

As more U.S. states legalize marijuana, many Americans are still incarcerated for offenses related to the drug — but 12 of them received last-minute pardons or sentence commutations from President Donald Trump early Wednesday morning.

The clemency for the marijuana offenders came amid a wave of Inauguration Day pardons and commutations, including many with close ties to the president such as his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Stephen Bannon, a former aide who played a role in Trump’s 2016 victory.

Under the president’s clemency power, he can grant reprieves, pardons, amnesties, remissions, and commutations for federal crimes, though he has no clemency power over state level convictions.

The defendants, some of whom were serving life sentences, mostly had their sentences commuted rather than receiving full pardons — meaning their sentences were ended or reduced while their conviction still stands. Some of them came from states where marijuana is legal.

One person who did receive a full pardon is Lynn Barney of Utah, who had already been released from prison after serving 35 months for possessing a firearm, after a prior conviction for distributing marijuana. The White House described him as a “model citizen” devoted to his work and children.

Other marijuana offenders who received clemency

  • Craig Cesal, 61, was serving a life sentence and temporarily on home confinement to prevent the contraction of COVID-19. In 2002, Cesal was convicted of conspiring to distribute marijuana, after leasing tractor-trailers to marijuana smugglers who transported the drug from Mexico, across the Texas border, and into Georgia. In Cesal’s home state of Illinois, recreational sale and use of marijuana is now legal. “I never received any direct revenue from marijuana,” Cesal told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The clemency from Trump comes as more states are legalizing marijuana. Image:  Getty
The clemency from Trump comes as more states are legalizing marijuana. Image: Getty
  • James Romans of Indiana was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison, without parole, for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. His sentence was commuted after serving 10 years. The White House noted that he’s a father and a grandfather.

  • Jonathon Braun’s sentence was commuted after serving 5 years of a 10-year sentence. In 2019, he was sentenced for an earlier 2011 guilty plea for conspiracy to import marijuana and to commit money laundering. The year he was convicted, Bloomberg reported that Braun built a predatory lending company while he was free on bail.

  • Noah Kleinman, 45, had his sentence commuted after serving 6 years of a nearly 20-year sentence. He was convicted in California in 2014 of illegally distributing marijuana.

  • Ferrell Damon Scott received a commutation of a life sentence, and the support of former Acting United States Attorney Sam Sheldon, who prosecuted his case but argued that he “strongly does not believe” that a life sentence was warranted. Scott was handed a mandatory life sentence and had served 9 years for possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

  • John Knock, 73, received commutation of two life sentences, plus 20 years. Knock, a first-time, non-violent marijuana offender, has served 24 years of his sentences for conspiracy charges related to importing marijuana into Canada and Europe. “I beg for mercy, compassion and forgiveness and a chance for a second chapter in my life. Please consider my petition for commutation,” a clemency request published to a website in support of Knock says.

  • The sentence of Anthony DeJohn was commuted after he served more than 13 years of a life sentence for conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

  • Corvain Cooper, 41, served more than 7 years of a life sentence for non-violent participation in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana. His sentence was also commuted.

  • Way Quoe Long, 58, served nearly half of his 50-year sentence for his non-violent involvement in a conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana.

  • Michael Pelletier, 64, served 12 years of a 30 year sentence for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. According to Bangor Daily News, a federal court was weighing Pelletier’s request for release due to health concerns, when the White House announced his sentence commutation.

  • Brian Simmons served 5 years of a 15-year sentence for a non-violent marijuana-related offense. In 2013, he was sentenced for a conviction of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana.

There is one notable marijuana defendant missing from this list: Luke Scarmazzo, 40, who was expected to receive a sentence commutation after receiving a nearly 22-year prison sentence in 2008 for operating a medical cannabis dispensary in Modesto, California. While medical cannabis was legal in the state at the time, he was convicted for violating federal law.

Scaramazzo’s business partner and high school football teammate, Ricardo Montes, also convicted for his role in the operation was granted clemency by then-President Barack Obama days before his second term ended in January 2017.

Yahoo Finance reached out to the marijuana reform advocacy group NORML for comment on the grant of clemency and will update this post with any comments we receive. Earlier this month, NORML released a statement pointing out that legal marijuana has boosted the economy during the pandemic-induced recession.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, regulators in several states designed marijuana retailers as ‘essential businesses,’ which permitted them to stay open under relaxed or, in some cases, new emergency rules intended to facilitate expanded customer access,” the statement said. “As a result, several states reported an unprecedented volume of retail sales in the spring and summer.”

Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance and former litigation attorney.

Follow Alexis Keenan on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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