Marijuana

Aaron Sandusky Has Spent 7 Years in Prison for Selling Medical Marijuana

Obama denied him clemency. Will Trump set him free?

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Aaron Sandusky has spent nearly seven years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute cannabis. He's one of about 20,000 federal or state inmates behind bars for an activity that is legal in one form or another in 33 U.S. states and Washington, D.C.

A bill is working its way through the Senate that might help people like Sandusky by expunging their records. Some advocates believe that President Donald Trump is close to granting clemency to some of these men and women―including Sandusky.

When Sandusky opened a marijuana dispensary in 2009, medical cannabis had been legal for 13 years in California. But in 2011, the feds carried out a series of federal raids on medical marijuana clinics in California, despite earlier assurances from President Barack Obama and his attorney general that they wouldn't target operators that were legal under state law.

Sandusky had located his operation in the town of Upland, one of a handful of municipalities that was attempting to use the zoning code to keep the industry away. Sandusky alleges that in 2011 the then-mayor, John Pomierski, demanded a $20,000 bribe to allow him to continue operating.

Sandusky ended up cooperating with the FBI, which later arrested and charged Pomierski with bribery and extortion.

After Pomierski was indicted, Upland continued the fight to force Sandusky to close his dispensary. So he sued in state court and won.

But cannabis is still a schedule one narcotic. According to Sandusky, city officials retaliated by sending a formal request to the U.S. attorney to shut down his operations. On November 1, 2011, federal agents raided Sandusky's businesses.

The federal government charged him with six counts of drug trafficking. Sandusky's employees all took plea deals. His business partner testified against him in return for a lighter sentence.

Sandusky declined a plea deal offer that would have turned him into an informant.

"I said, 'I'm not going to go set people up so these guys can take them down,'" says Sandusky. "These people are following state law."

Sandusky's attorney was planning to argue entrapment on the grounds that the Obama administration had publicly stated that it wouldn't prosecute marijuana operators. The judge prohibited that line of defense, and Sandusky was convicted and sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison. During sentencing, Judge Percy Anderson accused him of having lost his "way about what's right and what's wrong."

"Aaron, maybe more than anyone, should receive clemency because his case is so disturbing," says Amy Povah.

Povah did nine years in prison on a drug charge before receiving clemency from Bill Clinton in 2000. Now she runs the the nonprofit CAN-DO Foundation, which seeks clemency for all nonviolent drug offenders. Sandusky is one of 22 "pot prisoners" who CAN-DO is currently working to free.

"Corporations are making millions [from cannabis], and and we're even getting into the billions," says Povah. "I think [it's] almost a human rights violation to continue to punish people for marijuana offenses."

Povah says she's visited the Trump White House several times and met with Jared Kushner, who heads up the president's criminal justice reform team. She believes Kushner is open to reforming the clemency process and freeing more marijuana offenders.

"I am predicting that the cannabis people who are honest about this will see that [Trump is] the one that can get this done," says Dana Rohrabacher, a former U.S. congressman, a marijuana legalization advocate, and a Trump supporter.

He co-authored the 2014 Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from expending resources to raid and prosecute anyone operating a marijuana-related business under state law. Rohrabacher thinks that under his law, Sandusky should be released immediately, though the courts don't see it that way.

"They should be let out of jail and they should be given their freedom, clemency, and  maybe even an apology," says Rohrabacher. 

Sandusky is set for early release from prison this November, when he'll be transferred to a halfway house in California and then out on probation in early 2020.

Even though Sandusky will be out soon, he knows he'll be facing consequences long after his release and continues to seek a court appeal overturning his sentence or a full pardon and expungement for operating a business within the bounds of California law.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by John Osterhoudt and Weissmueller. Additional camera by Alex Manning and Austin Bragg. Graphics by Josh Swain.

Music from the album "Satin" by Kai Engel is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Creative Commons license.

"Florence Federal Prison" photo credit: Chris Schneider/Chicago Tribune/TNS/Newscom

"Dana Rohrabacher" photo credit: Paul Zinken/picture-alliance/Newscom

"Obama 2008" photo credit: Anthony Nowack/Photoshot/Newscom

"Deparment of Justice" photo credit: Alexandre Fagundes De Fagundes/Dreamstime

"J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building" photo credit: Paul Brady/Dreamstime

 

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  1. If only federal law prohibited placing a substance with proven medical uses on schedule one – – – – – –

    1. That would de-schedule about 90% of Schedule I substances lol

      Not that that would necessarily be a bad thing though

    2. I would change that to federal law prohibits scheduling any drug S1 without proving it doesn’t have any medical usage. Put the onerous on the prohibitionists, not the other way around.

      Of course the Constitution doesn’t give them any such authority either way so it shouldn’t even be a topic of discussion federally.

  2. If only we where the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, instead of being the Land of the Government Almighty Assholes!!!

  3. Kamala gets called out but Obama still gets a free pass. Trump may end this shit at the federal level, if congress acts, but he’s a white nationalist so it doesn’t count.

  4. I can think of nothing Trump could do to guarantee his re-election, than push for re-scheduling of cannabis. Strategically, he would win over many more millennial voters, and would likely not lose much, if any, of his base.
    But unfortunately, he’s currently flirting with more gun control, which I believe, will do the opposite.

  5. ” During sentencing, Judge Percy Anderson accused him of having lost his “way about what’s right and what’s wrong.”
    /Judge Percy…..’projecting’

  6. Blowmeovitch has also served 7 years, which may be too little – but this marijuana guy has served seven years too many.

    I certainly hope Trump doesn’t let Blowmeovich out of prison while keeping the MJ guy behind bars.

  7. “Obama administration had publicly stated that it wouldn’t prosecute marijuana operators. The judge prohibited that line of defense, …”

    Sandusky had incompetent counsel for not utilizing the white privilege defense.

    “Sandusky declined a plea deal offer that would have turned him into an informant.”
    To his credit, at least he will not see a rat when he looks in the mirror.

    “Sandusky’s attorney was planning to argue entrapment on the grounds that the Obama administration had publicly stated that it wouldn’t prosecute marijuana operators.”

    Had Sandusky stated upon his arrest that the Obama administration had publicly stated that it wouldn’t prosecute marijuana operators, could he have had those words “used against him” in a court of law.

    1. I do not see how he did not successfully use the clearly arbitrary and capricious enforcement of this law as defense.

      After all, it is clearly capricious for something to be banned by the federal government and licensed by the state. Then, there is the fact that hundreds of such stores have opened in the country. The fact that only a select few have been prosecuted is clearly a violation of justice. The likely situation that they were prosecuted for political reasons makes it a civil rights violation.

    2. Seems judges love double standards. In one case, judges took into account Trump’s campaign speech, which was extensively cited by opponents of Trump’s travel ban EO in courts, and ruled against Trump (SCOTUS later ruled in favor of Trump). Here, what the president says is verboten for use in one’s defense.

      The biggest surprise to me, is the total lack of Trump bashing in this article (seems TDS has spread among many of the Reason staff). Good thing given Trump is the most libertarian president in the last 50 years IMHO. And this is evidence that Trump is far more libertarian on social issues than even Democrats claim to be. With Obama, Harris and other Democrats behind civil asset forfeiture and drug laws, in spite of their lying rhetoric.

      As Gabbard pointed out, Harris, and other Democrats that have been in power, prosecuted drug users while having been users themselves, and did nothing to stop the abuse of drug users by the government. They lie to get elected and for them it’s about the power.

  8. No better way to reverse years of bi-partisan efforts to decriminalize Marijuana than for Trump to grant a non-violent, state-law-compliant, medical pot dealer clemency. Democrats will howl that there must be some ulterior motive behind it, and that all people in any way associated with pot should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of Federal law.

  9. Of all the things people named Sandusky have done, this is firmly in the “should not go to jail for a very long time for” category.

  10. This is what Obama Dem-populistas and Trumpista Nationalsocialists promised in their platforms and still have in their federal laws. Cowards who voted for kleptocracy parties voted to send men with guns to imprison non-violent entrepreneurs. Those votes could have packed 6 to 10,000 times the law-changing clout if assigned to LP candidates. But nooooooo…

  11. “despite earlier assurances from President Barack Obama and his attorney general that they wouldn’t target operators that were legal under state law.”

    You mean The Lightbringer and his toadies LIED!?!?

    I thought Obama was a complete tool when he first popped up on the National Scene. Nothing he has done since has made me reconsider that impression.

    1. A bigot disliked a black president?

      Tell us more, you half-educated rube . . .

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  15. Although it has been legalized by state governments, marijuana is still illegal under federal law and technically what Sandusky was doing is a federal crime. What happened to him is what should happen when people think they can ignore laws they do not like. You should work to change the laws at all levels, not think you can simply ignore them or that state law gives you some immunity. This is also a very good example of why we need to reel in the power of the Federal government and return to what this country is supposed to be, one where states have the power, not the Feds.

    1. Jury nullification. Unjust laws should be rejected by juries because they are unjust.

      1. Yeah, what you said is right !!!

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