WASHINGTON — As marijuana users celebrate 4/20 on Tuesday, jailed pot dealers are pleading with President Biden to honor his campaign promise to release “everyone” in prison for marijuana.
The White House is involved in initial talks about a new clemency initiative. But advocates want to keep up the pressure on Biden — noting he is directly responsible for jailing many drug dealers, including with the 1994 crime law he authored as a senator.
Biden recanted his “lock ’em up” stance and said in 2019: “I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period. And I think everyone – anyone who has a record – should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out.”
Clemency advocates want to hold him to his word.
Corvain Cooper, 41, was jailed for life for marijuana under the “three strikes” rule in Biden’s 1994 crime law and told The Post, “No one should be serving a long prison sentence over marijuana when states and big corporations are making billions of dollars off of this plant.”
Former President Donald Trump in January released Cooper and six other people with life sentences for marijuana — including wheelchair-bound Michael Pelletier, 65, who got a life sentence under Biden’s law for a third strike of smuggling Canadian pot into Maine.
Cooper said, “When the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, the president has to step in and fix that.”
Ismael Lira, 43, and Pedro Moreno, 61, are among the federal inmates still held with life sentences for pot. They both were convicted of distributing marijuana imported from Mexico.
“I believe President Biden truly sees the harm caused to the community of color, and I also believe President Biden will keep his promise to free all pot prisoners,” Lira said in an email from prison.
Lira received the harsh penalty because he chose to go to trial rather than plead guilty — allowing prosecutors to apply the full force of a 1970 “kingpin” statute.
“It’s not okay to punish someone so cruelly for exercising their Sixth Amendment right to trial,” Lira told The Post.
Moreno, who did plead guilty, was harshly punished in part because he allegedly encouraged a co-defendant to flee to Mexico. He and four of his brothers were sentenced to life in prison in 2001 for smuggling pot from 1986 to 1996. His brothers were freed in 2017 by President Barack Obama.
“I am a first offender who has served a quarter of a century and pray President Biden will have mercy on me and my family,” Moreno said in a message relayed by his daughter.
“All I want is to reunite with my children and my grandkids so we can become whole and put my past mistakes to bed. April is second chance month. I pray President Biden will consider me worthy of a second chance so my family can celebrate all the milestones we have missed over the years. I’m truly remorseful for my crime and pledge to devote my life to making up for the past. I promise I won’t need a third chance.”
April 20 has become an unofficial holiday for marijuana enthusiasts — reportedly derived from 4:20, a code used by some California high schoolers in the 1970s for the time of day they would get together to smoke weed.
The pleas for clemency come as marijuana legalization reaches a tipping point, including with recent state-level legalization in New York, Virginia and New Mexico.
On April 20, activists in New York and DC plan to openly give away celebratory joints to people who got COVID-19 vaccine shots. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is preparing to unveil a federal pot legalization bill.
A recent poll by Quinnipiac University found 69 percent of the public supports marijuana legalization — with 62 percent of Republicans in favor — and the policy has been embraced in either referendums or statehouses in 18 states plus DC. The Justice Department allows state-legal businesses to operate, even though marijuana possession remains a federal crime.
Some drug convicts are still serving “three strikes” life sentences under Biden’s 1994 law, but it’s unclear if any remain specifically for marijuana. The Biden law’s mandatory life sentence for a third serious drug conviction was reduced to 25 years by Trump’s First Step Act, but the reduction wasn’t retroactive.
Biden opposes marijuana legalization. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told The Post at a recent press briefing that his position “has not changed.” Five White House aides were recently fired after admitting they smoked marijuana.
But Biden gave a limited campaign trail mea culpa on his past support for harsh drug laws, including by promising to release pot inmates and acknowledging the uneven effects of drug laws.
“We, white America, has to admit, there’s still a systematic racism and it goes almost unnoticed by so many of us,” Biden said in 2019.
Attorney Patrick Megaro, who advocated successfully for Cooper’s release, said, “I would like to see President Biden honor his commitment to criminal justice reform by using the authority given to the president in the Constitution to right the wrongs of the past, especially the results of the 1994 crime bill he sponsored as a senator. I believe President Biden owes it to the people and the families this law negatively impacted.”
Amy Povah, a prominent advocate and founder of the CAN-DO Foundation, which advocates for clemency, said that “it’s time to free all pot prisoners and put this chapter of prohibition in the rearview mirror.”
“It’s time to end the hypocrisy that allows some to rake in millions while others languish in prison even during a historic pandemic,” Povah said.
“Given that both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took strong positions on the campaign trail to free the pot prisoners, decriminalize cannabis and expunge the records of those with cannabis convictions, we are anxiously awaiting to hear whether how that will come about,” Povah said.
In the meantime, Povah said, “It adds insult to injury that literally millions of people will be celebrating what has become a national holiday for cannabis enthusiasts on April 20th while people serving time for pot continue to languish in prison for engaging in the same activity that is now legal [in many states].”
Vice President Kamala Harris reportedly oversaw 1,900 marijuana prosecutions while she was San Francisco district attorney from 2004-2011, before saying in 2019 that she was herself a former pot user. She now supports making pot legal in a break with Biden.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment