Mr Scarmazzos Powerful Words from the Gulag in real time, makes it all clear, people’s lives do matter.
I’m elated and overwhelmed with gratitude. On January 19, 2017, Ricardo Montes was granted clemency! This was the best news I could have received. Ricardo didn’t deserve to spend a day in prison. I’m overjoyed he’s going to be reunited with his family and given the chance to experience life again. Ricardo is an amazing young man and the community will greatly benefit from his future contributions.
President Obama made tremendous strides for justice by broadly exercising his pardon power and releasing so many non violent drug offenders; men and women who were unjustly serving lengthy prison terms. Unfortunately, I was unable to benefit from the President’s benevolent actions.
I understand that the primary focus of the Clemency Initiative was to correct the injustices created by the war on drugs, namely the crack/powder cocaine disparity that disproportionately affected people of color. Those cases are extremely unjust and deserve immediate relief. No question. Nevertheless, the dragnet of the drug war was much broader than a single drug or one demographic of people. The casualties are diverse so the solutions should also be.
Ricardo and I were given a 22-year sentence for marijuana. We were charged under an old Nixon-era drug statue typically used against international drug kingpins. I understand why those laws were put on the books. They were part of a knee jerk reaction during a time of turmoil and panic, but we’ve learned a lot as a nation over the past 40 years and that experience has parlayed into a more sensible marijuana policy. Nearly a fifth of the states in our nation have legalized marijuana, including 28 states that have passed medical marijuana laws. The President himself has publicly stated that marijuana should be regulated like alcohol or cigarettes. So if we translate his words into policy, marijuana offenses should no longer be criminal, just like buying a pack of Marlboros or picking up a 12-pack of Coors isn’t.
To play devil’s advocate, even if marijuana were to remain illegal, it would undoubtedly be considered a lowest-level offense. Following this line of thought, all marijuana offenders serving these draconian sentences should have had their sentences commuted. Its a stain on the fabric of justice for Americans to continue to struggle through long prison sentences for conduct that’s legal in over half the nation.
The problem lies with the process not the President.
The DOJ attorneys worked hard to fulfill the mission of the President’s Clemency Initiative but when you’re underfunded and have a vertical process where a clemency petition must travel through seven layers of government bureaucracy, your results will be inconsistent. This is highlighted by the denial of my clemency petition and the granting of Ricardo’s. We’re co-defendants of the same indictment; we were arrested, tried, and sentenced together. But as you could imagine, the DOJ, whose job it is historically to prosecute drug cases, is not always going to be on the cutting edge of changing marijuana policy. With that said, I’m still certain that if the President personally reviewed my and Ricardo’s petitions he would have granted us both clemency. It would have been consistent with his views and leadership. I also don’t want to belittle the fact that someone in the DOJ did see Ricardo’s petition as worthy and gave it a favorable recommendation. Whoever you are, thank you. Thank you on behalf of Nina, Jolie and little Richie, Ricardo’s three children.
I also want to thank some of the people that helped make this happen, including all of my and Ricardo’s family members. Georgean Arsons, our dedicated and irreplaceable clemency advocate. She is amazing. We couldn’t have done it without her. Weldon Angelos, who selflessly worked on these petitions with us for the past two years. Kristin Flor, Amy Povah, Jay Mcneal, Steph Landa, Angela Bacca, Cheri Sicard, Anthony Papa, Sam Morison, Prof. Mark Osler, Judge Eskin, Change.org, Jasmine and Nina, and so many others, forgive me for forgetting names… It truly took a team.
What’s next for us? Ricardo will need help transitioning back into the community. We’ll be doing a fundraiser for him in the near future and he’ll still need your support in many ways. He may need help from business owners with employment, or a favorable recommendation from a professor or city leader. There are many ways to contribute. And let’s not forget: Ricardo is one of the founders of the legal marijuana industry and he sacrificed his life and liberty to help establish the $5 billion industry you see today. Everyone of the beneficiaries should honor this and do what they can to support Ricardo’s success. But most importantly, after 10 years in prison, I know Ricardo will want to catch up on all the time missed with his family. So please give him time to do so.
As for me, I’ll continue to fight. We’re looking into possible court action that could be liberating. Due to the unprecedented nature of our case, we’re currently posting an invitation to the country’s brightest legal minds to assist us in crafting a winning legal position. But today isn’t about me, or why I didn’t get clemency. Its not time to debate the process or talk about fairness. Today is about Ricardo, who was granted his freedom, and its about you.
Ricardo’s commutation may have been signed by the man at the top but it happened because of those of you at the bottom. The people that tirelessly typed and edited for us, the people that sent emails or letters asking for clemency, the people that stood in line at the post office, the journalists that wrote about us, our friends that plastered the internet and social media sites, and the organizations that promoted our cause. It couldn’t have happened without your outcries for justice, without your efforts, or without your faith.
Some folks didn’t believe we could pull it off. They called it a long shot, akin to winning the lottery. But we did it, we really did it, congratulations Rich! We knew our sentences were unjust from the beginning and you never waivered.
So the journey continues my friends. We’ve achieved a great victory but there’s still much work to be done. This path will take us to different battlefields and ask us play different roles, but I’m confident we’re up to the challenges.