Sentence Struggles

Mr. Smith thinks the pardoning of prisoners of the drug war couldn't happen soon enough

Editor's Note: J.M. Smith has improved greatly. He is breathing on his own, but remains unable to move anything but his eyes and his right middle finger. His doctors see a long, arduous road ahead. When Dick Cheney saw what Mr. Smith was tapping out for you this week, he flew into a rage and threatened briefly to unplug our cannabis maven's ventilator. Mr. Smith answered the only way he could—the way he surely would regardless—with his right middle finger. The former vice president grudgingly kept J.M. Smith alive.

People who know me will attest to my affection for Yahoo News. It just sounds awesome to say, and having been published there numerous times and coming from a long, proud line of yahoos stretching directly back to the Hatfields and McCoys, it's just fuck tons of fun to say, "Yeah, my story was on Yahoo News."

So I was with great joy that I saw that the White House chose Yahoo News to drop a hint that thousands of prisoners of war might be set free. A "senior administration official" told the search engine that the president could very well free thousands of Drug War prisoners, the one who are serving long sentences for tiny little crimes. This is good news, and it's a long time coming.

Obama pardoned just 22 people in his first term, fewer even than Bush, so it's nice to see he is considering a sweeping wave of freedom. The last time a president freed that many people was when Gerald Ford gave a pass to the Vietnam draft dodgers. Go Obama.

But perhaps the biggest problem with drug sentences isn't the people serving lengthy terms for small crimes. The short sentences add up to a much bigger and more disgusting problem.

In 2012, marijuana accounted for 28 percent of federal drug sentences, or roughly 9,000 people. That's 9,000 lives ruined, some albeit justifiably, but most for no good reason at all. In one year. For federal crimes only. Add to that the number of state marijuana offenders, and it's a crippling disaster, a monumental waste of treasure at the very least.

I'm not saying all marijuana defendants are innocent. But the vast majority of that drug law misery and heartache was inflicted on people like Robert Duncan, a California man who recently stepped into a federal prison to serve two years for growing cannabis in a commercial grow for dispensaries.

Duncan was managing a state-legal grow. He was trying to do the right thing in the job, having asked a lawyer before he took it if he would be at risk. He wasn't trying to flout the law; he was trying to pay rent and eat. He was part of the legitimate multi-billion-dollar marijuana industry that is sweeping the nation.

But the feds burst in one day, and shit started hitting Duncan's fan. He was suddenly neck deep in federal charges that could have put him away for most of, if not all of, his life. He got a lawyer, paid him $30,000 and went to court against your lawyers, your lawyers being the ones you, America, hired for a similar amount of money to send him to prison.

Duncan lost, and he surrendered about a month ago, after sending a message to Obama through Huffington Post, another news site near and dear to my heart and wallet.

"It's a lot bigger than me," Duncan told HuffPo. "It's not too late to do something different and to take bigger steps in the direction that the United States wants us to go. There's no need to send people in this situation to prison."

Yet we do. The dichotomy of our drug laws amazes me. It's astounding. We've got the president of the United States apparently yearning to free thousands of people for drug crimes on one end of the justice system, and thousands of people like Robert Duncan stepping in from the other end, stepping into the realities of missed loved ones and of stifled, ruined lives.

For no good reason at all.

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