A recent letter from the advocacy group The Weldon Project was also signed by more than 150 artists, athletes, producers, lawmakers, policy experts, reform advocates and leaders in business, law enforcement and academia. The letter urges the president to use his authority “to grant a full, complete, and unconditional pardon to all persons subject to federal criminal or civil enforcement on the basis of non-violent marijuana offenses.”
The Weldon Project is named after its president and co-founder, Weldon Angelos, who was building a promising music career when he was sentenced to 55 years in federal prison in 2003 for selling less than $1,000 worth of marijuana. Angelos was eventually released in 2016 after spending 13 years behind bars, going on to found the Weldon Project to advocate for change and provide support and financial aid to those serving prison sentences for cannabis-related offenses.
In a press release about the letter, Angelos called on the president to fulfill campaign promises to support cannabis reform efforts.
“Candidate Biden promised to take action and use the pardon power of the presidency to release those serving prison time for marijuana and pardon their felony convictions,” said Angelos. “At a time when dispensaries are as prevalent as liquor stores in some states, it is time for President Biden to now make good on that promise.”
Angelos was joined by celebrities including Drake, Killer Mike, Deion Sanders, Al Harrington and Kevin Garnett, who signed the letter calling for an end to the harm caused by federal cannabis prohibition.
“The harms of incarceration are obvious, but the pains of federal marijuana convictions transcend prison walls, making it more difficult for someone to get a job, access affordable housing and receive an education,” the letter reads. “A conviction can forever limit an individual’s constitutional rights and can put the American dream further out of reach for an entire family. Enough is enough. No one should be locked up in federal prison for marijuana. No one should continue to bear the scarlet letter of a federal conviction for marijuana offenses.”
Cannabis Industry Supports Clemency
The letter went on to note that three-quarters of American states have replaced cannabis prohibition with safe, regulated access to legal marijuana for either medical or recreational use, or both. Kyle Kazan, the CEO of California vertically integrated cannabis producer Glass House Brands, said that his company “fully supports The Weldon Project’s efforts to redress the harm done by the misguided War on Drugs” and urged others in the industry to do the same.
“Legal companies can no longer stand idly by and profit off of cannabis while individuals like Weldon Angelos suffer from the financial and social repercussions of a prison sentence for selling or using the same substance,” Kazan said.
Angelos’ letter urges Biden to exercise his authority under the U.S. Constitution to grant clemency for federal criminal convictions. The letter also notes that a full pardon for those convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses is consistent with the actions of previous presidents from both political parties.
“In 1974, President Ford established a program of conditional clemency for Selective Service Act violators. In 1977, President Carter issued a categorical pardon to all Selective Service Act violators, closing the book on a costly and painful war,” the letter reads.
“President Biden has the power to do the same for the federal war on marijuana. Through his act of constitutional grace, a general clemency will send a clear and powerful message that our country is truly taking a new course on criminal justice policy and practice.”
Hip-Hop Artists Join the Cause
Among those signing the letter were music industry leaders including Drake, Meek Mill, Lil Baby, Killer Mike and dozens of hip-hop artists who joined the effort in support of rapper and friend Ralo, who is currently facing up to eight years in prison for a nonviolent cannabis offense. In a statement, Ralo highlighted the inconsistency in enforcement of federal cannabis prohibition and echoed the letter’s call for clemency.
“I appreciate my friends and peers in the hip-hop community, especially Drake, supporting my clemency because it’s just not right that corporations are allowed to violate federal law and become millionaires while people like myself go to prison for years,” Ralo said. “This is hypocrisy. I hope that Joe Biden honors his campaign promise and grants us clemency without delay, so I can return to my family and community.”
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.