Pubdate: Tue, 24 May 2016
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Alex Contreras
Note: Alex Contreras of Anchorage, Alaska, a criminal justice reform 
advocate and former federal inmate serving a 40-year sentence for 
drug and gun charges, received clemency from President Obama in December 2015.


More than 10,000 clemency applicants wake up every day in a federal 
prison, awaiting an answer from President Obama on whether their 
lengthy prison sentence will come to an end. Most of them will be 
crushed when they are eventually denied. There are a few, however, 
who will realize the unlikely and overwhelming joy of finally being 
released. I was one of those rare few whose name was on the list of 
Obama's recent clemency grants. And while I was excited to finally be 
going home - and extremely grateful to the president - I was also 
perplexed by those who weren't on the list.

In speaking about criminal justice reform, Obama has highlighted the 
injustice of incarcerating marijuana offenders for "long stretches," 
and has described marijuana as being "less harmful than alcohol" and 
a "vice," not unlike cigarette smoking. He also instructed his 
Justice Department to not prosecute medical or recreational marijuana 
sellers who are operating under state law. But his pool of clemency 
recipients does not reflect these views.

Out of the 306 clemency grants, less than 3 percent were marijuana 
offenders, and not one of them was a medical marijuana provider, 
despite being the most deserving given that they were following state 
law and the Obama administration is no longer prosecuting them.

Some of them are even serving decades in prison.

One such inmate is Ricardo Montes, a Latino serving a harsh mandatory 
20-year sentence for operating a medical marijuana dispensary in 
Modesto under California law. Montes and his co-defendant received 
the longest sentences ever doled out to any medical marijuana 
provider, because - during the aggressive George W. Bush 
administration - they were charged under a fearsome mandatory minimum 
statue designed for drug kingpins and dangerous cartels.

Individuals like Montes are even more deserving of clemency than I 
was. Yet I fear that men such as Montes will be left to serve the 
remainder of their lengthy prison terms, while others reap the 
rewards of the change in the legal landscape of our nation's 
marijuana policies. I hope that Obama's remaining clemency grants 
will reflect his sensible views regarding marijuana, ensuring that 
our criminal justice system "keeps its basic promise of equal 
treatment for all."
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