Luke Scarmazzo is in federal prison. Has been for many years. He’s not scheduled to get out until 2027. He and his partner, Ricardo Montes, were convicted in 2008 of selling medical marijuana, something that many other people in California were and are doing. They had a legal state license but were convicted under federal statutes and sentenced to long prison terms.
Montes was pardoned by President Barack Obama just before leaving office in 2017. Getting Scarmazzo out of prison is the major initiative of Mission [Green], part of the Weldon Project started by Weldon Angelos to offer financial and other aid to people still incarcerated on non-violent drug charges.
“He’s the last person I thought we would ever be quoting.”Weldon Angelos
Angelos knows Scarmazzo’s situation because they met in prison. Angelos, a music producer then working with many top hip hop acts, was sentenced to 55 years for selling marijuana, a sentence aggravated because, prosecutors said, he had a gun. (He claims otherwise.)
Angelos was released from prison by President Obama, and President Donald Trump pardoned him Dec. 22, 2020. Paul Cassell, a George W. Bush district judge appointee who sentenced Angelos, spoke out against mandatory sentencing guidelines and said the case was among the reasons he chose to step down from the federal bench.
“After I went to prison, I met Luke,” Angelos tells The News Station. “His case was worse than mine. But I had people pulling for me in the Obama administration, Alicia Keyes, Snoop Dog, the Koch brothers. It still took me 13 years to get out. One of the things Luke asked was, ‘Please don’t forget about us. You have a network. I need you out there.’ I had a choice when I got out. Do I want to do music again or take advantage of my situation? I decided to become a voice for those left behind.”
The latest attempt to get Scarmazzo released is a supplementary brief lawyers filed that includes comments from Clarence Thomas, the conservative Supreme Court justice who weighed in on cannabis regulation earlier this year when the court declined another case. Thomas wrote that the government has sent mixed signals about cannabis.
“Given all these developments, one can certainly understand why an ordinary person might think that the Federal Government has retreated from its once-absolute ban on marijuana,” Thomas wrote.
Did Angelos ever think a Justice Clarence Thomas quote would be used in a pro-marijuana argument?
“Never,” he says. “Justice Clarence Thomas is the last person I thought we would ever be quoting.”
Angelos says his worst error so far is that he thought a Trump pardon for Scarmazzo was coming after getting good intelligence that he would get one the same day Angelos got his.
“His family was told to head out to the prison to pick him up. When it was reversed, that was my worst moment,” Angelos recalls.
Angelos thinks that Scarmazzo’s continued incarceration has something to do with his activism, especially a video he made before he was sentenced that made fun of federal laws and those prosecuting him and bragged about how much money he was making.
“It wasn’t illegal, but it wasn’t smart,” Angelos says. “It is his First Amendment right. But she was biased, and it was 100% because of the video” that he continues to be imprisoned while Montes has been released.
Compassionate release is the only hope to get Scarmazzo out before 2027. And while Angelos has been successful in freeing others, including working with Ivanka Trump and others to pardon Michael ‘Harry O’ Harris, one of the founders of Death Row Records who was serving time on attempted murder and cocaine trafficking charges, he still hasn’t gotten Scarmazzo any closer to freedom. “You would think that would be tougher than Luke’s case. Luke was following state law.”
Angelos is now working with the Biden administration, which hasn’t acted but has vowed to pardon people like Scarmazzo who committed nonviolent crimes in the disastrous ‘war on drugs.’
“We’re working with them — hoping and urging him to grant general pardons for marijuana. Luke’s case is the most compelling,” Angelos tells The News Station. “Today, Luke couldn’t be prosecuted. You can’t get more compelling than that.”