WASHINGTON — Federal marijuana inmates say they’re shocked that President Biden’s mass-pardon for pot offenders doesn’t actually help them — telling The Post that the historic clemency amounts to a “rancid” pre-midterm elections stunt and a “slap in the face” that fails to do what Biden promised as a candidate.
There are about 2,700 federal pot inmates, according to a recent congressional estimate, but none will get out because Biden’s pardon applies only to the roughly 6,500 people convicted federally of simple possession, of whom none are in prison, and to unknown thousands more convicted under local DC law.
Biden announced his mass pardon after Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democratic Senate candidate in a key race for control of the upper chamber, last month urged him to embrace pot reform ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections due to broad public support — even though Biden has consistently opposed legalizing the drug and even fired at least five White House staffers last year for past pot use.
Although Fetterman, who is locked in a dogfight of a race against TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, is a longtime advocate of marijuana legalization, he pointed out that “Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support decriminalizing marijuana” — making it a potential electoral boon to Democrats as economic woes including high inflation aid Republican efforts to retake control of Congress.
Donald Fugitt, 38, who has about 16 months left in prison for dealing marijuana in Texas, said, “I’m still in shock because I thought we were all going home” upon hearing about Biden’s mass pardon.
Fugitt said inmates at his federal prison in Fort Worth “started cheering for us in here for weed” until “the initial glee turned into yet another let-down.”
“Biden fed us rancid hamburger and the media is celebrating as if he served up filet mignon,” added Joseph Akers, 40, of Philadelphia, whose 16 1/2-year sentence for taking part in a marijuana dealing conspiracy is scheduled to end in 2031.
“Please President Biden, reunite us with our families so we can be at the dinner table this holiday season! What would you do if your children were in prison?” he added — without directly noting both of Biden’s adult children abused cocaine, or that Delaware’s US attorney reportedly may soon charge first son Hunter Biden with tax fraud and gun-purchase crimes.
Biden wrote or advocated for some of the nation’s harshest drug laws in the 1980s and ’90s — sending some pot dealers away for life without parole — before he pivoted in 2019 to fend off younger rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.
On a primary debate stage three years ago, Biden said, “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.”
The White House did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment on whether Biden intends to order the release of people currently in prison for marijuana, but in the past has said he sticks to his campaign commitment.
Biden’s Thursday announcement didn’t win universal acclaim and skeptics questioned whether it was just an attempt to ride the cannabis reform bandwagon and gin up support among younger voters after 19 states legalized recreational pot in the past decade.
About 68% of Americans including half of Republicans support pot legalization, according to a Gallup poll last year, and voters in five states — Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota — will decide on pot legalization next month, potentially boosting young adult turnout.
Marijuana activist and journalist Tom Angell tweeted Thursday, “It’s disappointing — though not surprising, I suppose — that Joe Biden’s move to pardon people for marijuana did not come with a personal apology for the decades he spent as a senator fighting successfully to ramp up the racist war on drugs.”
Amy Povah, founder of the CAN-DO Foundation, which advocates for clemency for non-violent offenders, told The Post, “I’m elated for [Biden’s] pardon recipients,” but “I can’t wait for those who are currently incarcerated and have survived a historic pandemic under tortuous conditions to get the relief they were promised, as well.”
Biden’s Thursday announcement included orders for the federal bureaucracy to reconsider marijuana’s longstanding categorization as a Schedule I drug. That review could ease research of the drug’s medical properties and potentially lead to the legalization of interstate businesses.
But Biden’s pot actions were still a bitter pill for inmates currently in federal prison and their families.
Daniel Longoria, 56, who is set to be released in 2040 after completing a sentence for distributing marijuana in Texas, said, “This long awaited news does not free anyone. It is hard to digest this when you’re a first-time offender with non violent history serving a 30-year sentence for cannabis.”
His brother Travis Longoria said, “people are making mega-bucks selling cannabis on every corner and it was an essential business during the pandemic! When will it be our turn to re-enter society and given some mercy?”
Cornelius Berry, 46, said he thought Biden’s pot clemency was “good news” and a step “in the right direction,” but also that “it’s a slap in the face for those of us in prison because Biden words when campaigning were no one should be in prison for marijuana.
“I am a nonviolent offender still sitting here with 188 months for something that is legal in a lot of states and is projected to hit $32 billion in sales this year,” said Berry, whose 15-year sentence for pot distribution in Texas is scheduled to end in 2029.
Some federal inmates have life sentences, meaning they may never get out without clemency — including Pedro Moreno, 62, who distributed marijuana imported from Mexico from 1986 to 1996.
Moreno’s daughter, Alejandra Lopez, who is pregnant with her third child, said, “My kids are growing up without a grandpa. Please, President Biden, we are begging you to expand your mercy.”
Although none of the roughly 6,500 federal pot-possession convicts benefiting from Biden’s clemency are in prison, pardons can ease negative consequences of convictions on housing, employment and student financial aid. It’s rare for people to be charged federally with simple pot possession and many of the people are believed to have been busted at the US border with small amounts of the drug.
It’s possible that federal pot convicts ultimately will get out of prison through legislation. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) is leading a bipartisan effort that would release the roughly 2,700 federal marijuana inmates.
On his last day in office, Republican President Donald Trump last year released seven people serving life terms for marijuana — including two men who were given life without parole under the three-strikes provision of Biden’s 1994 crime law.
Michael Pelletier, a 66-year-old wheelchair-bound paraplegic released by Trump, told The Post this year, “It breaks my heart knowing there are still people serving life without parole for cannabis. I hope Biden will free all pot prisoners because I personally know several people who voted for him based on that campaign promise alone.”