Mission Green, an initiative of justice reform advocacy group the Weldon Project, announced on Thursday that it has filed a clemency petition for Parker Coleman, who is serving a 60-year sentence in federal prison for marijuana distribution. The filing continues Mission Green’s campaign to secure the release of men and women serving time for marijuana offenses and follows President Joseph Biden’s recent announcement that he would pardon all federal convictions for simple marijuana possession.
The clemency filing is part of the efforts of Mission Green, an initiative of the Weldon Project working to free cannabis inmates from prison. The Weldon Project is headed by Weldon Angelos, who spent 13 years of a 55-year sentence in federal prison for a nonviolent marijuana conviction after a diverse group of lawmakers, legal scholars, athletes, and entertainers campaigned for his freedom.
“Since my release from prison, I have dedicated my life to securing the release of other individuals locked away for non-violent drug offenses,” Angelos said in a statement. “Parker Coleman’s case is a perfect example. He shouldn’t spend another day in prison for conduct that isn’t even criminalized anymore in much of the country. Enough is enough.”
Mission Green is working with the Academy for Justice to submit clemency petitions urging Biden to deliver on the pledge he made while campaigning for office to release those convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses. The submission for Coleman is part of a new campaign, the Cannabis Clemency Initiative, that seeks to help people in prison for marijuana convictions, starting with those incarcerated in federal prison. The new initiative fosters collaboration between criminal justice scholars and reform advocates to achieve its ambitious goals.
Legal Scholar Drafts Clemency Petition
Coleman’s clemency petition was drafted by Erik Luna, the Amelia D. Lewis Professor of Constitutional & Criminal Law and the Founder of the Academy for Justice, a criminal justice reform program within the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. In the petition, Luna wrote that commuting Coleman’s sentence would be a “powerful, tangible step in affirming the President’s commitment to ending federal incarceration for non-violent marijuana offenses.”
“Parker Coleman, a young African-American man, is currently serving a 60-year federal prison sentence for non-violent marijuana distribution—that is, de facto life imprisonment of a person of color for conduct now authorized under state laws across the nation and openly pursued as a business by the multi-billion dollar cannabis industry,” Luna wrote. “Mr. Coleman’s sentence is not only a troubling example of racial and class disparities in federal drug enforcement, it’s excessive compared to the terms imposed in related cases or that would be imposed in state court today.”
In 2014, Coleman was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison on marijuana trafficking and money laundering charges plus an additional 30 consecutive years for a nonviolent firearms offense. The clemency petition argues that the sentence is excessive in an era of widespread cannabis policy reform, noting that Coleman has taken steps to rehabilitate himself and improve his life while behind bars.
“His effective life sentence is also inconsistent with recent reforms in law and policy, as well as a sea change in public opinion, all of which point away from incarcerating people like Mr. Coleman for non-violent drug offenses and toward a non-punitive approach to marijuana,” the petition reads. “Despite the injustice of his sentence, Mr. Coleman has worked hard on rehabilitation and self-improvement. His successful record while incarcerated, along with a strong support network of family and friends, make Mr. Coleman an ideal candidate for clemency relief from an excessive and unjust sentence.”
Luna applauded President Biden’s recent pardon of federal offenses for simple marijuana possession as “a historic event in criminal justice reform and an important first step toward correcting the lingering injustices of a national drug ban.” But he added that “additional work remains to be done, especially the release of those incarcerated for non-violent marijuana-related offenses at the federal level—including Parker Coleman.”
By granting clemency in this case, Luna said, “the President would further demonstrate his commitment to correcting injustices and his belief that America truly is the land of second chances.”
Clemency Petition Backed By Glass House Brands
The clemency petition is backed by California vertically integrated cannabis company Glass House Brands and the company’s chairman and CEO, Kyle Kazan, who has been working to secure Coleman’s release for more than a year. Kazan, who is also a former police officer and a Mission Green board member, is personally supporting Coleman’s clemency bid by guaranteeing mentorship, meaningful employment, and housing upon his release.
In a public statement, Kazan said that “while Glass House has had revenues well in excess of $100 million for cultivation, transportation and sales of marijuana while nobody in the company has served a day in jail for it, the juxtaposition between the legal business and prisoners like Parker Coleman is jarring.”
“It is a moral imperative for me to dedicate my time and resources to redress the absurd incongruities existing today at the twilight of marijuana prohibition,” he added.
Glass House President Graham Farrar says that “Parker is a cannabis POW.”
“It is crazy that he is locked in a cage for a 60-year sentence for a non-violent cannabis charge,” Farrar wrote in an email to High Times.
“The work that Weldon Angelos and Erik Luna are doing is amazing. I’m proud that Glass House and Kyle are a part of it,” he added. “As a former police officer, Kyle’s voice is a vital one in the fight for cannabis clemency for Parker as well as the 2,700 other federal non-violent Cannabis POWs currently in prison over a plant. It is time to end the war on cannabis and let our fellow Americans go free.”