Thursday, July 18, 2024

Cannabis Industry Reacts To President Biden’s Clemency News

With the news polarizing opinions, some say they will wait and see what comes next from the administration.

By Andrew Ward

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced pardons and commutations for 78 individuals with criminal records. The bulk of the clemency order focused on nonviolent drug offenders, with most already on home release during the COVID pandemic under the CARES Act.

In a statement, Biden added that of those selected, many “would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offense today, thanks to the bipartisan First Step Act.”

Joe Biden
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Hope To See More Action Soon

While supported by all sources, Biden’s decision has left some people feeling as if only a minute portion of the progress has come to fruition so far. Countering that opinion, other advocates believe more will come during the Biden administration.

Amy Povah, a former nonviolent drug prisoner turned advocate, is CEO of the CAN-DO Foundation, which advocates for the release of nonviolent cannabis offenders. She’s excited about the developments and now hopes to see clemency efforts kicked “into high gear.”

“I know many people who voted for him who do have children serving time for marijuana, and they are feeling let down right now,” Povah said, who took part in the clemency efforts, meeting with the administration as part of The Justice Roundtable.

Weldon Angelos, a former cannabis convict who received an early release in 2016, now heads The Weldon Project and Mission Green. Like Povah, he’s been in the room with Biden officials and the Trump Administration on the issue.

RELATED: Biden Issues First Pardons To Those With Federal Cannabis And Drug Convictions

Angelos noted that some might feel that Biden came up short for now. He counters by calling the moves positive steps, adding that the decision ensures that once semi-freed individuals won’t return to prison when the CARES Act expires. He also commended the release of multiple individuals still physically in prison.

Angelos said the clemency effort had been the work of numerous individuals and groups focused on releasing various offenders.

“This was a culmination of a lot of different people putting in work and really just trying to get the President to go,” he said, adding, “We’re just one piece small piece of that.”

With the news polarizing opinions, some say they will wait and see what comes next from the administration.

Photo by Kindel Media via Pexels

Justin Strekal, founder of the BOWL PAC and formerly of NORML, said the President could fulfill his campaign promises with a blanket pardon. While much more is needed to meet his commitments, Strekal commended Biden for evolving on cannabis while urging additional action.

“He must continue to do more to adequately address the moment and provide relief to those who have and continue to suffer as a result of the failed drug war,” he said.

Seeing Signs Of More To Come

Others tell Benzinga that Biden’s efforts mark positive steps in his evolution on the subject. Michael S. Hiller, founder of law firm Hiller, PC, highlighted the simultaneously released plans for a $145 million federal program providing recently released offenders with job training and re-entry planning. The dual release makes Hiller feel like the clemency was a more symbolic effort regarding justice reform.

“While it is always difficult to gauge political motivation, particularly in an election year, I am optimistic that the President recognizes the harsh, punitive, and discriminatory enforcement of our Nation’s drug laws, especially against persons of color,” Hiller said.

Elana Frankel, a self-employed cannabis consultant and creative, used the classic cannabis consumption rule to describe Biden’s efforts: “Start low and go slow.”

Rob Pero, owner of Native American-owned hemp brand Canndigenous, said the decision marks “baby steps” towards Biden’s campaign commitment to reform criminal justice in America. Still, he commends Biden’s steps taken.

“If you look at his 2020 Presidential campaign and promise to reform the criminal justice system, in part by using his pardon and clemency power, I would say he is holding true, at least beginning to, to his word,” Pero said.

In a tweet, Glass House Brands Inc. CEO Kyle Kazan praised the decision while adding that more needs to be done. “I’m hopeful this was a first step towards full pardons,” Kazan tweeted.

Others felt like Biden has come up short on campaign promises.

Jacob Plowden, New York State Director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said the industry expected more.

“Now, all we are seeing is a bait and switch of promises geared towards federal legalization,” he said.

President Joe Biden
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Ryan Lepore, a New York-based advocate and director of business operations for telemed service PrestoDoctor, said “progress is progress,” but thousands remain in state and federal prison.

“The harm we are focused on rectifying is partly a result of his own, and many others, harmful pre-presidential policies,” Lepore said, noting Biden’s involvement in pivotal legislation, including 1994’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

Jason Ortiz, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, wants to see more, a decision he feels would benefit the public and Biden’s presidency.

“Now, if only he would do more than the bare minimum and lead on this issue, he might be able to salvage his presidency,” Ortiz said.

Scheril Murray Powell, chair of the Broward County (FL) Medical Marijuana Advisory Board said that while Biden’s crime bill history is concerning, she believes in second chances just like we expect for prisoners.

Powell believes “that political candidates can evolve and change their views” but cautioned that voters “will hold you accountable for your campaign promises.”

This article originally appeared on Benzinga and has been reposted with permission.


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