The commutations are part of a larger effort aimed at more fair sentencing in the United States. “As the Department of Justice has noted, mandatory minimum sentences have at times resulted in harsher penalties for non-violent drug offenders than many violent offenders and are not necessary for prosecutions at this level,” the White House states.
Hayden received life in prison for his involvement in the cultivation of an estimated 18,900 plants grown among rows of corn in Indiana and Michigan between 1991 and 1998. It was Hayden’s third conviction after pot offenses in 1980 and 1990. Hayden’s was the lone pot sentence commutation among the batch, which mostly dealt with commutation of sentences for cocaine and cocaine base.
“Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” the White House stated. “Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years — in some cases more than a decade — longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime.”
President Obama personally signed letters to each recipient of a commutation, stating: “I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. … I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong. … Good luck and Godspeed.”
With the move Tuesday, President Obama doubled the number of commutations during his tenure to 43, more than Reagan, H.W. Bush, and W. Bush combined.
Many, many other people are serving life in prison for marijuana violations, with Oakland group Green Aid among many devoted to freeing them. Here’s ten more outrageous cases of life for pot.