Journalist explains why Biden needs to get serious about federal marijuana pardons

Journalist explains why Biden needs to get serious about federal marijuana pardons

During his 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised that if elected, he would support the decriminalization of marijuana and grant presidential pardons to Americans convicted of nonviolent federal marijuana offenses. But journalist Ben Burgis, in an article published by The Nation on April 8, argues that if Biden is serious about pardoning federal marijuana offenders, he should pardon Daniel Muessig — a Pittsburgh resident and former attorney who is getting ready to serve five years in federal prison for a marijuana conviction.

After Muessig quit practicing law in Pittsburgh, Burgis notes, he became part of an illegal marijuana dispensary. A federal raid occurred in May 2019, but Muessig was never convicted of doing anything violent — only distributing marijuana.

“When the raid happened in May 2019, it was a fluke,” Burgis explains. “They walked into a trap ultimately set for a different gang — one that didn’t just sell weed. Daniel went through two excruciating years of waiting and wondering after that. Meanwhile, his friends were indicted, one after another.”

Burgis adds, “A 63-year-old man only marginally involved in the business hanged himself when the indictment came down and he realized how many years he’d have to spend in prison. Daniel described to me how he bent over and vomited in a Target parking lot when he got the news.”

On November 16, 2021, Muessig pled guilty to distributing marijuana — and on March 8, he was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Muessig discussed his situation in an article published by Truthout on March 13.

Muessig, Burgis notes, could have avoided prison but refused to inform on any fellow marijuana distributors.

“He was offered, again and again throughout the process, the option of informing on his friends,” Burgis observes. “He easily could have gotten off with probation. Instead, when he reports to prison on May 11, he’ll serve a minimum of five years — unless President Biden finally makes good on his promise.”

Unless Biden grants Muessig a federal pardon, Burgis adds, he will be going to federal prison for “committing a ‘crime’ that’s been made entirely legal in states from Maine to Oregon and from Michigan to California.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted for a bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. The bill’s fate in the U.S. Senate, however, remains uncertain. If the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act did make it through the Senate, Biden would likely sign it into law.

Muessig, according to Burgis, has been “pushing a high-risk strategy” to get Biden to live up this promise to pardon nonviolent federal marijuana offenders. The “No Pardons, No Voters” strategy, outlined on the website, says, “President Biden: keep your word. Pardon all 2,800+ federal nonviolent cannabis prisoners. Or we will not vote in the midterm election this November.”

It's a strategy that many Democratic voters, both progressive and centrist, are likely to reject — as everything from voting rights to abortion rights to gay rights is on the line in the 2022 midterms and the far-right MAGA Republicans who are likely to take over the U.S. House of Representatives are dangerously authoritarian. Certainly, MAGA extremists like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina would love for Democratic voters to stay home in November.

“Some people reading this article may be prepared to take the pledge and do the electoral equivalent of shooting the hostage next fall,” Burgis writes. “Others might be disturbed by the idea of rolling the dice on the possible consequences of electing the greater evil. Ultimately, you’re going have to make your own calculations between pragmatism and principle. Daniel Muessig has already made his. Starting on May 11, he’s going to wake up in a cell every day for the next 1875 days.”

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