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Joe Biden commutes sentences of 75 people with non-violent drug offences

Apr 27, 2022 | Media Partners, The GrowthOp

This post is presented by our media partner The Growth Op
View the original article here.

Individuals “would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offence today.”

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U.S. President Joe Biden exercised his authority to commute “the sentences of 75 people who are serving long sentences for non-violent drug offences.”

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Those involved had earlier been released to home confinement. Many of the affected individuals “have been serving on home confinement during the COVID-pandemic” and “would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offence today.”

A commutation “is the lessening of a penalty without forgiveness for the crime,” Canadian Legal explains, while a pardon “is the forgiveness of a crime and the cancellation of the relevant penalty.”

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Beyond the commutations, Biden also pardoned three people.

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One of the people receiving a presidential pardon is a 52-year-old man convicted 20 years ago “for using his business to facilitate the distribution of marijuana in the Northern District of Georgia.”

Although he was not personally involved in trafficking cannabis, he did allow “distributors to use his pool hall to facilitate drug transactions,” notes the clemency list released by the White House this week.

Taking full responsibility for his actions, the list states that he pleaded guilty to the charge against him. “Since his release from custody, [he] has converted his business into a cellphone repair service and hired local high school students through a program that seeks to provide young adults with work experience.”

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The list also cites a handful of other individuals who received commuted sentences for sentences related to, at least in part, cannabis.

One person from Texas was sentenced to 145 months in prison for possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and less than 50 kilograms of cannabis. Also, a South Carolina man was handed 240 months in prison for, among other counts, conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base, five kilograms or more of cocaine and 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.

All of the individuals who were pardoned or whose sentences were commuted “have made efforts to rehabilitate themselves, including through educational and vocational training or drug treatment in prison,” reads a fact sheet from the Biden administration.

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The scant total of pardons and commutations for non-violent weed crimes is unlikely what advocates had wanted. Brennan Center for Justice — whose focus is to defend democracy, reform justice and protect the US constitution — had earlier cited a lack of progress by the Biden administration.

“Biden campaigned on a prom­ise to ‘broadly use [the] clem­ency power for certain non-viol­ent and drug crimes.’ The exec­ut­ive’s pardon power is extraordin­ar­ily broad, and could serve as a power­ful correct­ive to excess­ive punish­ment in the federal system gener­ally, as well as a tool for right­ing specific wrongs. However, as of Jan 10, 2022, Biden had not gran­ted any peti­tions for a pardon or commut­a­tion,” the group reported at the time.

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After this week’s announcement, though, Weldon Angelos, a justice reform advocate who was pardoned by then-President Trump two years ago, sees some progress unfolding.

Angelos told Marijuana Moment that his recent meeting with White House officials “was very encouraging, and we believe President Biden will keep his campaign pledge to grant categorical clemency for cannabis offenders.”

After the House passed a cannabis legalization bill, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden agrees “our current marijuana laws are not working,” National Post notes. Psaki, however, did not provide any specifics on what would be done.

The recent pardons and commutations were, at least in part, thanks to the bipartisan First Step Act, signed into law under former President Donald Trump.

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As it stands, the Act requires the U.S. Attorney General to develop a risk and needs assessment system to be used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to assess the recidivism risk of all federal prisoners and place them in recidivism-reducing programs and productive activities to address their needs. It also expands the Second Chance Act.

Newly announced changes will more closely align with some of Biden’s promises around justice reform.

The fact sheet details the expansion of second-chance opportunities for formerly incarcerated people. The cycle of crime can be broken by understanding that “second chance opportunities offer people who have made mistakes and served their time a path to make meaningful contributions to their communities and reduce recidivism.”

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The new approach — which includes investing in job training and intensive re-entry in federal prisons, expanding federal job opportunities and loan programs, expanding access to business capital and investing in infrastructure to promote hiring of formerly incarcerated persons —  is a key part of the strategy Biden announced last June to tackle gun crime and violence.

“While today’s announcement marks important progress, my administration will continue to review clemency petitions and deliver reforms that advance equity and justice, provide second chances and enhance the well-being and safety of all Americans,” Biden says.

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