Biden Takes First Action on Clemency Powers Since Elected

Before elected president, Joe Biden reaffirmed his position that “No one should be in jail because of cannabis use,” during his campaign trail in 2020.

Nearly a year and a half after he took office, those seeking for cannabis-related convictions as a $24-billion state-legal industry unfolded in 2021 began to wonder if his comments were just for show—Biden did not use his clemency powers once.

But the president turned a page on April 26, announcing that he is granting clemency to 78 individuals. Biden will pardon three people “who have demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation” and are striving to be contributing members of society. Also, he is commuting the sentences of 75 people who are serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

Many of the 75 people Biden plans to pardon would have received lower sentences if they were charged with the same offenses today, he said in a White House statement.

“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden said in the statement. “Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities. During Second Chance Month, I am using my authority under the Constitution to uphold those values by pardoning and commuting the sentences of fellow Americans.”

Among the three people Biden is pardoning is Dexter Eugene Jackson, a 52-year-old of Athens, Ga., who was convicted in 2002 for using his to facilitate the distribution of cannabis. Jackson was not personally involved in trafficking but allowed distributors to use his pool hall to enable cannabis transactions. He pled guilty to the charge and accepted full responsibility, according to the White House’s clemency recipient list.

Many of the 75 commutations included those incarcerated for possession or distribution of cocaine, some of whom received sentences based on the bipartisan Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which then U.S.-Sen. Joe Biden co-crafted and co-sponsored. The legislation authorized new funding for drug treatment programs and stricter penalties for drug offenses. It cleared both chambers of Congress with overwhelming majorities.

After Ronald Reagan signed it into law, an overlooked provision came to light, which infamously became known as the 100-to-1 disparity. The law required the same five-year-minimum prison term for crimes involving 5 grams of crack cocaine as for those involving 500 grams of powder cocaine.

But at least eight of the 75 commutations Biden announced Tuesday dealt with cannabis-related offenses. 

Jose Luis Colunga, of Juniata, Neb., was charged with the conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of cannabis in Tennessee. Colunga was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment with a 10-year term of supervised release in July 2010.

Stacie Demers, of Constable, N.Y., was charged with the conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cannabis, aiding and abetting the possession with intent to distribute cannabis in New York.

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