President Biden ‘Working On’ Releasing Cannabis Prisoners

President Joseph Biden recently said that his administration is “working on” his goal to release federal marijuana prisoners, although he failed to provide details or set a timeline to enact a cannabis clemency plan for those behind bars for marijuana convictions. Biden made the comments after Marine 1, the presidential helicopter, landed on the south lawn of the White House on July 16. During brief remarks to the press, a reporter asked the president if he’d be honoring his campaign pledge to release all the marijuana inmates in prison?

Biden replied that he doesn’t think that “anyone should be in prison for the use of marijuana.  We’re working on the Crime Bill now,” according to an official White House transcript of the exchange. It’s unclear which legislation the president was referring to, however.

While campaigning for the presidency in 2020, Biden said that “anyone who has a [marijuana] record should be let out of jail” and pledged to “broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes.” Biden has also said that while he doesn’t plan to end the federal prohibition on recreational marijuana, he’d support the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of cannabis.

Only two days earlier, just before Biden reiterated his cannabis policy, the cannabis clemency advocacy group The Weldon Project and the National Cannabis Roundtable announced the launch of the Cannabis Clemency Campaign, an initiative that will encourage the Biden Administration and Congress to advance policies that would grant cannabis clemency to qualifying individuals who have been convicted on federal marijuana charges.

“Through cannabis clemency, President Biden has an opportunity to deliver justice for the thousands of Americans who have been impacted by federal marijuana prohibition and punitive sentencing practices,” said Weldon Angelos, co-founder of organization. “This would fulfill one of President Biden’s campaign pledges and send a powerful message about this Administration’s dedication to criminal justice reform. I’m proud to formally launch this campaign alongside the National Cannabis Roundtable and look forward to working together to redress the harm done by federal marijuana prohibition.”

Pardons Issued in April

In April 2022, the president issued three pardons and commuted the sentences of 78 nonviolent drug offenders, although only nine cases were related to cannabis, according to a report from Marijuana Moment. But so far, the administration has yet to announce a comprehensive plan to release cannabis prisoners. Ellen Mellody, vice president at cannabis public relations agency Mattio Communications, is a former spokesperson for the 2008 Obama-Biden campaign. She said that the president is “dropping the ball” on the issue of cannabis clemency.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the politics of the issue and forget that what we are really ‘debating’ is a policy that is based on lies,” Mellody wrote in an email to Cannabis Now.

“The American people continue to be far ahead of President Biden and their elected officials when it comes to supporting the overturning of outdated policies. However, Biden hasn’t put his full weight behind expungement, legalization or even doing the very basics such as bringing back the Cole memo,” a federal policy that protected medical marijuana companies operating legally under state law from interference by federal law enforcement agencies. In 2018, the Cole memo was rescinded by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“It’s extremely rare to have 68% of Americans agree on a policy, but today, that’s how many Americans support legalization in the US. Yet, Biden and other elected officials on both sides of the aisle have often ignored or laughed off their constituents largely due to education gaps about what these policies mean for Americans and their families,” Mellody said. “What we’ve found is that the more educated the elected official is on cannabis, the more they see how cruel criminal cannabis prohibition is. While this step is better than no action at all, Biden should start asking hard questions and stand up for the rights of Americans. If he did that, he’d be guaranteed to stand on the right side of history.”

Khari Edwards, head of corporate relations for Florida-based cannabis multistate operator Ayr Wellness, said that it seems natural for President Biden to follow through on his promise of cannabis clemency, noting that support for “cannabis and criminal justice reform has never been higher.” He added that he believes that the legal cannabis industry has a moral obligation to help those who have been disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition and enforcement.

“With licensed businesses now able to legally engage in the cultivation and sale of cannabis, we find it wrong that others continue to sit behind bars for doing the same thing we do legally today,” Edward wrote in an email. “We believe the cannabis industry should collectively stand together to help others and be part of the solution.”

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Most Affected: Daniel Longoria, Joe Cavazos and Travis Longoria Fight for Their Freedom

This Most Affected installment looks at sentences of those incarcerated for cannabis, and this case deserves your special attention. 

Life was difficult for Daniel Longoria and Jose “Joe” Cavazos growing up in the small border town of Brownfield, Texas. The stepbrothers were two of six in a house supported by a mom and stepdad who struggled to make ends meet.

“We grew up very poor,” Daniel told High Times

Courtesy of Daniel Longoria

By 15, Daniel had developed a severe drug habit, including a meth addiction. Four years after being kicked out of home, he continued using until a near-fatal overdose at 19. After the grave scare, Daniel committed to changing his life. He contacted his mother, asking her to help him get clean.

“I went to her and told her that I wanted to change my life,” he recalled. Once on the path to sobriety, she paid for his auto school tuition.

Her investment in Daniel paid off. He earned his mechanic’s degree in Lubbock, about 45 miles north of Brownfield, hitching rides with friends to school for a year and a half until he earned his certification. He then headed to Fort Worth to further separate himself from his past. There, Daniel climbed the ranks, becoming a manager in Fort Worth and Abilene shops for over a decade. In 2001, he opened his own shop, Abilene Automotive and Performance. 

Around the same time, he started doing business with a cannabis dealer through a family connection. Daniel said he’d occasionally do five-pound deals, with orders eventually doubling in size. Despite having a thriving career, Daniel thought of his family back home. He figured the pot sales would help support them as they had helped him in the past. 

“Cannabis was not for me,” he said. “It was to help out my mother who was struggling,” he said. 

In 2008, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years of probation the following year. In 2014, Daniel was arrested by federal agents once again. The charge was for one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of cannabis. Feds allege Daniel had overseen an operation that smuggled cannabis inside car stereos. Cavazos, Daniel’s then-20-year-old son Travis and three others were eventually found guilty in the scheme. 

Most Affected
Courtesy of Travis Longoria

“A Cycle that Ain’t Been Broken”

Cavazos was apprehended at his nearby auto shop. The ordeal left him floored. He pushed back against his alleged involvement in drugs or illegal activity. He did the same for Daniel, swearing that his stepbrother had spent the past few years turning his life around. Rather than dealing drugs, he said the two were regular Sunday church-goers who put on occasional fundraisers for the local elderly community. 

In custody at the federal courthouse, Cavazos alleges that Feds said they wanted him to testify against Daniel. Cavazos refused to provide a statement against his stepbrother, swearing that both men were tax-paying business owners and nothing else. 

He said he told Feds, “You’re asking me to testify against somebody that I know for a fact is not doing anything.” 

Daniel and Cavazos claim they had no involvement in the operation. However, Travis was involved for similar reasons as his dad once had. Travis already had a child with his high school sweetheart. By 17, he was working at Daniel’s shop as a mechanic, supporting the family while his girlfriend took care of their daughter and home. Travis, who lived with two different stepmoms and his grandmother while his mom was in and out of prison, didn’t want to see his home fall apart. He turned to illegal drug sales to make more money.

“I guess it’s a cycle that ain’t been broken,” he said. 

Daniel claims that issues at home with his now-ex-wife led to her revealing details to the Feds about his past illicit dealings. With the Feds tracking him and his workers, he said he told his son to cut out any pot activity. 

“You need to stop because if you don’t, they’re gonna use you to put me in prison,” Daniel recalled telling Travis.

But, Travis didn’t listen. “He turned his life over to God, and that’s when I started doing my thing,” Travis said. When he was arrested, Travis’ girlfriend was just a few weeks away from giving birth to their second child. 

The three went to trial and were all ultimately found guilty. Cavazos, a first-time offender, received nine years, while Travis received 10. Daniel, alleged to be the head of the ring, received 30 years. 

Daniel, now 56, is currently jailed at FCI El Reno in Oklahoma with a 2040 scheduled release date. Travis, now 29, is at FCI Beaumont Medium prison in Texas. Cavazos, now 58, spent most of his sentence in a Texas prison. Since May 2020, he has been in home confinement with a monitoring device due to the pandemic and the passage of the CARES Act that released select non-violent offenders. 

“I am on home confinement, but I want to be released from this ankle monitor and given clemency,” Cavazos said via email.

The sentences continue to be a sticking point for the men. Their frustrations center on the legal process, including a lack of transparency and an information gap defendants often encounter. They allege that evidence proves that Feds, including Assistant U.S. Attorney Juanita Fielden, built the case upon paid testimonies and improper practices. Cavazos said he has a CD of evidence he hopes to use to clear their records one day when Longoria is free and they can afford legal representation.  

He states that the disc contains conversations Cavazos had with police as well as statements from witnesses in exchange for their immunity. 

“This ain’t over yet,” said Cavazos of the legal fight.

Courtesy of Daniel Longoria, Joe Cavazos and Travis Longoria
Courtesy of Joe Cavazos

Hoping for an Early Return to Their Families

Since inside, each man has done their part to turn their lives around. By 2016, all three had completed drug education courses. Cavazos also took classes on parenting and landscaping. Travis earned his GED in 2014 and has completed several OHSA safety courses. Daniel, too, earned his GED while also working on anger management, spiritual growth and art. He has maintained an outstanding record the past seven years. 

Each hopes that their efforts and nonviolent offenses will earn them their permanent returns home soon. The Longorias both continue to wait out the end of their sentences. Travis reportedly does his best to avoid the lure of gang life that often sucks in inmates. Meanwhile, Daniel continues to be part of his family’s life, but the sentence has affected them all.

“When they put me in prison, they put the family in,” said Daniel. 

The effects have been most noticeable on his two youngest children, with his 15-year-old daughter Lexy attempting to take her own life in 2017. Meanwhile, he and his youngest son have a strained relationship as the nearly teenage boy goes through emotional bouts related to growing up without a father. Hurt but empathetic, Daniel said he does his best to show his son that he didn’t do anything violent and that the plant that put him in jail is now considered medicine to millions. 

At the same time, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the family, leading to the death of his sister and step-father. Daniel also became infected with the virus, reporting that he still experiences shortness of breath. Despite it all, Longoria relies on his faith and tries to remain positive. 

As 2021 came to a close, the three remained uncertain of their next steps. Cavazos hopes to serve the rest of his sentence at home with his family. Meanwhile, the Longorias hope to see their sentences reduced or cleared so they can come home to their families. Daniel is excited to get back to supporting the family and being a thriving member of the community. He said that an uncle is ready to turn the keys to his two-decade-old body repair shop over to Daniel so that he can retire. Until then, the entire family, including Daniel and Cavazos’ mom, works at the shop.

Daniel said his uncle told him, “I need you to hurry up and get out because I need you to take over the shop.” Daniel said he plans to expand the shop to provide his auto mechanic expertise once he’s released. 

Join us in advocating for these three men by signing the following petitions: DanielTravis and Joe.

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Glass House Brands Donates $25,000 to The Weldon Project

Today Glass House Brands announced a $25,000 donation to continue its support of The Weldon Project’s ongoing mission to assist individuals incarcerated for nonviolent, cannabis-related offenses. The company also announced that Glass House Brands Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO Kyle Kazan has joined the Board of Directors of The Weldon Project.

The Weldon Project is a nonprofit organization co-founded by former cannabis prisoner Weldon Angelos—dedicated to both ending federal prohibition of cannabis and achieving criminal justice reform for people who are convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses. The Weldon Project is an effort very near and dear to Kazan. 

“From my first meeting with him, I sensed Weldon Angelos is a very special person, driven by an intense personal commitment to right the wrongs of the War on Drugs,” Kazan told High Times. “His own experience as a federal prisoner of the drug war is the flip-side of the same destructive, misguided policy I actively enforced as a police officer in the ’90s. We share a mission to heal the unjust, unequal wounds our country has inflicted on its own citizens for decades, and we also share a view on how to accomplish that.” 

Kazan shares ethical values with the former prisoner—that no one belongs in prison for cannabis-related offenses. He recognizes the path forward can only be achieved in steps, beginning with clemency efforts and policy change.

“The very first step is to make certain that no one, absolutely no one, is incarcerated for possessing a plant,” Kazan said. “And once we have accomplished that, we face the much more challenging task of welcoming and reintegrating these people into society with expungement and wraparound support services for housing and jobs. We are building a regulated cannabis industry in this country, and no one deserves to be a part of it more than those who suffered along the path to its creation. I am proud to have the privilege of working with Weldon, and I am convinced that The Weldon Project will be a powerful force for good in unlocking thousands of jail cells and restoring these peoples lives.”

In the announcement, Angelos explained how a cannabis conviction can ruin the lives of Americans—essentially reducing them to second-class citizens. With Kazan’s appointment to the Board of Directors will help move this agenda forward.

“I’m excited to welcome Kyle to our Board of Directors as his commitment to our cause along with his experience in being a Director for nonprofits will make him a valuable new member for the Weldon Project. Kyle and his team at Glass House have been valuable partners in our ongoing fight to end cannabis incarceration around the country,” Angelos stated. “Individuals convicted of cannabis offenses essentially live as second-class citizens in modern society and are stripped of their abilities to access loans, housing and professional opportunities even after they have served their sentences. We will continue to work with Glass House and our other partners to ensure that the detrimental effects of cannabis prohibition are relics of the past.”

Glass House Brands and The Weldon Project collaborated to push for policy change and clemency programs. Glass House will help to raise funds for The Weldon Project and petition the Biden administration to free all federal nonviolent cannabis prisoners. 

To do this, they will highlight the case of Parker Coleman, who is serving a 60-year federal sentence on a nonviolent cannabis conspiracy conviction. In January, Glass House also issued an open letter to former President Donald J. Trump, urging him to pardon Coleman. The case has gained support from Russ, Tory Lanez, NBA veteran Al Harrington and San Diego Padres pitcher Keone Kela.

The Weldon Project

The project sprung from dire consequences. Salt Lake City, Utah native Weldon Angelos received a mandatory minimum 55-year federal sentence for a nonviolent cannabis-related offense. His case was ignored by the United States Supreme Court, despite ongoing pleas from advocates. His sentence was finally commuted by former President Barack Obama in 2016 after serving 13 years in prison. In 2020, former President Trump granted him full pardon. His conviction’s reversal only happened due to the incessant lobbying from advocates including Snoop Dogg, political analyst Van Jones, Utah Senator Mike Lee and Koch Industries. 

But The Weldon Project’s goal is to extend those freedoms to other prisoners serving hard time for similar nonviolent offenses.

The Weldon Project sent a letter on September 14 to President Joe Biden requesting a full, complete and unconditional pardon to all persons subject to federal criminal or civil enforcement based on nonviolent cannabis offenses. Glass House joined over 150 signatories that supported the letter to the president.

Glass House also produced a live panel discussion on the topic, hosted by cannabis reporter Mona Zhang and featuring Killer Mike, Angelos and Kazan, as well as rapper Ralo, who joined the conversation remotely from Clayton County Detention Center in Ashland, Alabama. Ralo is currently serving time for a nonviolent cannabis offense. 

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