California Governor Jerry Brown, apparently feeling the holiday spirit, spent a good part of Christmas Eve this year flexing an Executive power reserved only for state Governors, and the President of the United States himself - the power to pardon individuals of past crimes. While a pardon does not completely erase a crime from a person's record, it does re-grant them certain rights, such as voting, serving on a jury, or in some cases even owning a firearm.
Governor Brown handed out a respectable 127 pardons this year, 93 of which pertained to drug-related crimes, many of those weed-related. The most notable from that array of individuals was 65 year old Robert Akers, convicted in 1968 of selling pot.
Twenty years old in the height of the hippy-era, Akers was living away from home for the first time, shacking up in a nondescript apartment with a roommate who happened to occasionally sell some weed. One night, alone in the apartment, an undercover agent knocked on the door and Akers, following his roommate's instructions, handed the agent an undisclosed amount of bud, taking a fistful of cash in exchange.
For that, the only "crime" he had ever been involved in, Akers was shackled with a felony conviction of selling marijuana, a charge that would significantly alter the next four and a half decades of his life. Now a senior citizen living in South Dakota with his wife of over 30 years, Akers, by way of Governor Brown's pardon pen, has a new lease on the rights that had been stripped from him so many years ago.
Governor Brown fell just one pardon short of his 2012 total of 128, which had surged from a paltry 11 pardons in 2011. Richard Boire, the lawyer who drafted the pardon request on behalf of Mr. Akers, noted how expedient the process was this time around, saying, "Compared to the previous Governor, Governor Brown has really taken the pardon process seriously and thoughtfully." That line is an undeniable dig at former California Governor and Kindergarten Cop, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who granted a pathetic 15 pardons during his entire eight year term.
President Obama himself issued a handful of similar yuletide pardons this year on the Federal level, but failed to adequately address the growing list of men and women serving life without parole for victimless marijuana-related offenses.
With cannabis reform dominating the headlines across the country, he missed a real opportunity to recognize the many differences between weed and other Schedule I substances. Instead, he focused his efforts primarily on eight individuals who had been convicted of selling crack cocaine, and had been given stiffer sentences than someone who had been selling powdered coke - the implication being that lower class communities see more crack than coke, and thus, unjustified harsher penalties.
In a statement that could just as easily be applied to any one of hundreds of cases nationwide pertaining to pot, the President said: "I am commuting the prison terms of eight men and women who were sentenced under an unfair system...because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year."
He then called upon the do-nothing-Congress to leap into action and pass more sentencing reform measures, to make sure, he says, "that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all."
President Obama's record on pardoning past crimes is almost as atrocious as The Terminator's was in California before Governor Brown came along, and even Republican idol Ronald Reagan pardoned literally 10 times more people in his first term as president as Obama did.
Unfair system indeed, Mr. President.