The Most Obvious Place to Start Prison Reform: Cannabis POWs

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Photos Courtesy of Cheri Sicard

In the course of my job as a cannabis activist I regularly say a lot of things that surprise the general public.  Since they’ve been subjected to decades of government sponsored brainwashing, most people are not up on the real facts which often run counterintuive to what’s expected: smoking marijuana does not cause cancer, or kill brain cells, or any number of other horrible consequences our prohibitionist government claims.  But what invariably shocks people the most is when I talk about prisoners serving life sentences for nonviolent marijuana offenses.

You read that correctly.  Right here, right now, in the so-called “land of the free” we have many people serving Life Without Possibility of Parole for nonviolent marijuana crimes.  For some, like 1986 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Randy Lanier, and Chicago truck mechanic Craig Cesal, these were first offenses.

Randy Lanier

Randy Lanier

Lanier, Cesal, and others like Paul Free, Larry Duke, and George Martorano are part of an aging prison population who have been incarcerated for decades for victimless crimes involving a plant states are legalizing.

A new petition, penned by Beth Curtis of, whose brother John Knock is one of these prisoners, offers an easy way the President could right this egregious wrong and remedy the situation: Grant Mass Clemency to Nonviolent Drug Offenders Serving Life Sentences.

The petition models its suggestion on historical mass clemencies like those granted by Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter to Selective Service Act violators during the Vietnam War.  Systemic clemency has been used frequently throughout the history of our country and is a Presidential tool and responsibility that is usually used to restore justice when retribution has caused a rift in the social fabric.  The war on drugs is our contemporary example of this excess.

Craig Cesal

Craig Cesal

Curtis’s simple common sense solution is something nearly everyone can agree on: “Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, hardly anyone thinks it is a good idea to waste tax dollars locking nonviolent senior citizen marijuana offenders away for life.”

The petition leaves the details clemency to the President’s discretion but includes suggestions for reasonable guidelines, such as a group commutation for those who have served 10 years and/or reached the age of 60.

Organizers debated the wisdom of including all nonviolent drug offenders serving life in the petition and ultimately opted to do so as the public is no longer complacent about the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and cocaine and the President has shown sympathy towards, and granted clemency for, some crack cocaine prisoners caught in in this sentencing gap.  In these cases the petition simply suggests the President commute life sentences when time served equals the time of incarceration for same weight cocaine offenses.

Paul Free

Paul Free

The organizers, along with the families of those serving life sentences are hoping for a strong show of public support on this petition with the plans to use it bolster new clemency efforts currently being drafted.

It only makes logical sense to stop the cruel and unusual practice of incarcerating inmates for life for nonviolent, victimless crimes.  This petition will spread awareness of an issue most American don’t even realize exists, as well as gather supporters to help in efforts to finally get these men released while they still have a few years left to spend with their loved ones.

Sign the Petition here

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