Free Those Currently Incarcerated For Non-Violent Marijuana Convictions: Free Rudi Gammo
Imagine that you lived during alcohol prohibition and received a criminal conviction for being in possession of alcohol as an adult. It would be silly to think of having a conviction for that on your criminal record considering alcohol laws are now so liberal. When the law changes, would it not be unfair to allow old convictions to remain especially when they could cause a person to not get a job or to be denied a student loan? Imagine if minorities were disproportionately prosecuted for those offenses as they are like marijuana offenses.
Speaking about marijuana, what about those who operated in the “grey” marijuana market who provided marijuana to legitimate patients but were technically operating illegally because our state legislature took so long to put something in place for a state-regulated commercial system like we have now? Non-violent marijuana convictions should be expunged by the state of Michigan. Especially in cases like that of Rudi Gammo.
Rudi Gammo was a pioneer when he opened the first city-licensed dispensary in the City of Detroit back in 2012. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA) did not provide for commercial distribution so the Green Cross Medical Marijuana Dispensary obtained their product from MMMA caregiver overages, like all dispensaries that were, and until July 2018, still in operation today. Because many of those grows were located in Oakland County, in homes that Rudi leased to caregivers, the prosecuting attorney, Jessica Cooper, prosecuted Rudi with Conspiracy to Commit a Criminal Enterprise and he was sentenced to five years in prison in February of 2018. Rudi’s actions were completely non-violent and with no identifiable victim. No firearms were involved nor was there any allegation that anyone but a registered medical marijuana patient was provided marijuana. Rudi went to prison for providing a service that our medical marijuana patients required and many, like Rudi provided. Rudi should be released from prison and that is my mission. Free Rudi Gammo.
Currently, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I substance, however, in November of 2018, Michigan voters are likely to legalize recreational marijuana. When that happens, it would be absurd if the State of Michigan did not seek to restore justice to the thousands of people who have previously been convicted of non-violent marijuana-related offenses. It would be even worse if those who were unfairly targeted did not have the opportunity to address the violation of their Constitutional rights. Even nonviolent felony convictions should also be considered for expungement especially when it has been proven that minorities and people of color are three times more likely to be arrested and conviction for marijuana offenses. In 2013 the American Liberties Civil Union (ACLU) found that on average, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.
Thankfully, our country’s societal views regarding marijuana are vastly different. Further, among the approximately thirty current states in this country who have legalized either medicinal or recreational adult use marijuana, including Michigan, there is a significant movement that believes that all of those who have previously been prosecuted and convicted for non-violent marijuana offenses should have the opportunity to have their convictions vacated. These marijuana restorative justice initiatives have begun in both state and federal government.
In August 2017 New Jersey, Senator Corey Booker introduced Senate Bill 1689, the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 which sought to federally legalize marijuana and expunge federal non-violent marijuana-related criminal convictions. It also calls for an immediate sentencing review for all persons currently imprisoned to be re-sentenced as if the act was in place at the time of the original conviction. On February 8, 2018, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced an identical companion bill in the House. These bills have a total of 28 bi-partisan co-sponsors.
In 2016 Proposition 64 legalized recreational marijuana in California. It also approved the ability to retroactively erase some, and reduce other, misdemeanor and felony marijuana-related convictions dating back to 1975. Interestingly, fewer individuals than expected have applied for these expungements because many are not aware of this opportunity and others believe it is too complicated and costly. In response, on January 31, 2018, the District Attorney for San Fransisco affirmatively dismissed almost 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana cases and will review an additional 5,000 felony cases for possible action. In his press release San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon stated the following:
“While drug policy on the federal level is going backward, San Francisco is once again taking the lead to undo the damage that this country’s disastrous, failed drug war has had on our nation and on communities of color in particular. Long ago we lost our ability to distinguish the dangerous from the nuisance, and it has broken our pocketbooks, the fabric of our communities, and we are no safer for it. While this relief is already available pursuant to Proposition 64 for anyone with a conviction, it requires that they know it is available and to retain an attorney to file the expungement paperwork. A criminal conviction can be a barrier to employment, housing, and other benefits, so instead of waiting for the community to take action, we’re taking action for the community.”
Following San Francisco’s lead, on February 8, 2018, Seattle, Washington state officials said they were going to automatically clear thousand of marijuana convictions. On February 1, 2018, in San Diego County, a partnership between the district attorney’s office and the public defender identified about 55 people who were incarcerated (some serving sentences up to 18 years) or on formal probation for crimes that Proposition 64 legalized. Prosecutors and public defenders in San Diego are combing their case-management systems for other eligible cases have identified about 4,000 and are reviewing them.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper had a meeting on February 5, 2018, to discuss the state’s efforts to dismiss marijuana convictions for non-violent convictions. The administration identified about 40 inmates who are serving prison sentences only for marijuana crimes, whether possession or sale.
Then on February 15, 2018, it was reported that the Philadelphia prosecuting attorney threw out more than 50 marijuana possession convictions.
On January 24, 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana legislatively. The Vermont governor then promptly pardoned 192 marijuana offenders.
These very recent social justice marijuana movements illustrate the changing attitudes in our country regarding criminal convictions and marijuana. They support the notion that it would be unfair to allow prior marijuana convictions to remain for actions that are now or will be, legal. It is very rare to find such a radical chance in drug policy which is why removing convictions seems radical as well, but it should not be. It’s only fair. In this country, the law changes based on the collective opinion of what is right and wrong. The same is true for the supreme law of the land, our United States Constitution which is why we allow for it to be amended. The issue with restorative justice is that the time in which it takes for the law to change in conformity with society is a long time. Therefore, despite a change in our views which forces a change in the law, because of the time it takes, those who are caught up in the old laws are unfairly treated. These people are actually pioneers. They should be protected from taking the risks necessary to force the change in the law. This is what has happened with marijuana law.
Society has said long ago it was time to end criminal penalties for marijuana but it is only beginning to happen now. Those who have suffered through the criminal justice system during a time that most of our population does not agree with the law should be given the opportunity to have their justice restored. Minorities, particularly young African American males have been unfairly targeted which has resulted in unfair prosecutions and convictions just because of their race. There exists overwhelming evidence of this which can be found here. It is only fair we do something to restore their justice, their dignity, and their Constitutional rights in a Democratic and just society like the United States of America.
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