Drugs

Should Making a Music Video Keep Luke Scarmazzo in Prison?

His partner was pardoned by Obama, yet Scarmazzo remains behind bars.

Still from "Business Man" by Luke Scarmazzo
Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube

In 2008 Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Ruiz Montes were found guilty of drug charges for operating a medical marijuana dispensary and both sentenced to 20 years in federal prison with the possibility of life behind bars.

In his own words Luke wrote about his arrest “On a crisp September morning in 2006, federal agents in military fatigues, carrying automatic weapons and draped in tactical gear, were at their staging area going over the final details of their plan. They were preparing to take down their target. I just didn’t know when I answered my door bell at 6 a.m. that I, in fact, was their target. They stormed into my home, slammed me against the wall, and handcuffed me.”

It was the end of life as Luke knew it. According to Peter Hecht of the Sac Bee before his arrest Scarmazzo hired a production company to make a spectacular-looking music video, which depicted hip entrepreneurs packing boxes of cash, filthy rich from marijuana.

Dapper in shades, a braided ponytail and business suit, Scarmazzo rapped boastfully about riding in high-priced wheels, suggesting he kept “a weapon on me” to keep robbers at bay. He presided over a board room with seductive women and delivered this mocking testimony before a tribunal seemingly depicting unwelcoming city officials:

I’m a business man

I mean business, man

Let me handle my business, damn!

In the five-minute video, which was uploaded to YouTube, Scarmazzo brags of making $4,800 per pound – or “bow” – of marijuana, adding a rhyme: “Now that’s what I call incorporating dough!” He celebrated smoking joints in the face of federal marijuana intolerance and, with flipping fingers, delivered his kicker: “F—- the feds!”

Just weeks after the release of the video Federal and local drug agents raided his California Healthcare Collective. Both Luke and Ricardo went to prison. They fought for their lost freedom for years exhausting all of their legal remedies. His young daughter Jasmine even started a petition to set him free. The only chance to regain their freedom was through an act of mercy from President Obama in the form of clemency. Both Luke and Ricardo applied. I wrote a letter last year in support of them telling the president that:

“I want to particularly bring to your attention that neither Ricardo nor Luke would be charged with a federal crime today if they were operating a medical marijuana dispensary in California. Both federal law and Department of Justice charging practices have changed to the extent that their business activity would be legal today”.

In January of 2017 Ricardo was granted clemency by President Obama, Luke was not. Why? Both were convicted of the same crime. I strongly believe the video sunk any chance of Luke receiving clemency.

Today twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted the most expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Most recently, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada all passed measures legalizing recreational marijuana. California’s Prop. 64 measure allows adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes. Other tax and licensing provisions of the law will not take effect until January 2018.

The question I now ask is should creating a video keep someone in prison for many years?

Luke’s video will be featured in a piece titled “Martyr or Drug Dealer” in my upcoming art installation next month at Drug Policy Alliance’s International Reform Conference in Atlanta.

For more info about the DPA Conference visit www.reformconference.com

Anthony Papa is the manager of media and artists relations for the Drug Policy Alliance. He is the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency.

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