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White House Commutes the Sentences of 95 Nonviolent Drug Offenders

President Barack Obama is in the home stretch of his presidency and like many presidents before him, he is using his executive power to help reduce the prison population, particularly for those prisoners who have been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. In what may prove to be one of his final acts as president, Obama signed a decree to pardon two prisoners and commute the sentence for 95 others.

This marks the largest number of prison sentences commuted at once for President Obama since he came into office, and brings the total number of commutations to 170 during both of his terms, which actually places him on the lower end of the spectrum for presidential pardons and commutations.

Of the prisoners whose sentences were commuted by the president, there were six prisoners whose punishable offenses were related to cannabis only:

  • Edward B. Betts – Carbondale, IL
    • Offense: Conspiracy to distribute in excess of 100 kilograms of marijuana (Southern District of Illinois)
    • Sentence: 360 months’ imprisonment; eight years’ supervised release (Jul. 27, 1992)
    • Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 16, 2016, and eight-year term of supervised release commuted to two years of supervised release.
  • Charles Frederick Cundiff – Altoona, FL
    • Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana; attempt to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana (Northern District of Florida)
    • Sentence: Life imprisonment (Jan. 8, 1992)
    • Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on December 18, 2016.
  • William Ervin Dekle – Lake City, FL
    • Offense: Conspiracy to import 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana; conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana; importation of 100 kilograms of marijuana (four counts); possession with intent to distribute 100 kilograms of marijuana (four counts) (Northern District of Florida)
    • Sentence: Life imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release; four years’ special parole (Jun. 7, 1991)
    • Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 16, 2016.
  • Chad Robert Latham – Tacoma, WA
    • Offense: Conspiracy to manufacture marijuana; manufacturing marijuana (Western District of Washington)
    • Sentence: 180 months’ imprisonment; five years’ supervised release (Jan. 18, 2006)
    • Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 16, 2016.
  • Juan Fernando Mendoza-Cardenas – Houston, TX
    • Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana (Northern District of Georgia)
    • Sentence: 240 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Jan. 28, 2004)
    • Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 16, 2016.
  • Wilbert L. Shoemaker – Tallulah, LA
    • Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana (Western District of Louisiana)
    • Sentence: 240 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Feb. 2, 2004)
    • Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 16, 2016.

At least one of the prisoners on this list, Chad Robert Latham, was caught in Washington, a state that is now legal for medical and recreational cannabis. Two of the prisoners on this list, Charles Frederick Cundiff and William Ervin Dekle, were sentenced to life imprisonment for the distribution of cannabis in Florida.

While it’s commendable and truly a relief to know that even a few of the thousands of low-level nonviolent drug offenders will be receiving a pardon, this release only highlights how far we have to go and just how important it is to fight for the end of prohibition.

#JustSayKnow