Joe Biden Urged to Deliver on Promise to Decriminalize Marijuana

"Who will be the last person incarcerated for cannabis in the United States?"

That's the headline on a full-page advertisement taken out in Thursday's Washington Post highlighting the case of Jonathan Wall, a 26-year-old who has been languishing in a federal supermax detention facility in Baltimore, Maryland, for more than a year as he awaits trial on federal marijuana conspiracy charges.

Wall's family and supporters took out the ad to call on the Biden administration to make good on campaign pledges to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level—and save people like Wall from serving lengthy sentences while others make a fortune working in the legal cannabis industry.

Wall "faces life in prison while Beyonce says that she's starting a cannabis farm. This is not the way the law is supposed to work," the ad says.

"Basically you could drive across the United States right now, smoking pot legally on a state level, or possessing it, all the way from California to New York," Wall's attorney Jason Flores-Williams told Newsweek. "But it remains federally illegal."

Jonathan Wall
Jonathan Wall has been languishing in a federal supermax detention facility in Baltimore, Maryland, for more than a year as he awaits trial on federal marijuana charges. Courtesy of the Law Offices of Jason Flores-Williams

Wall is "being prosecuted for the same activity that thousands, if not millions of people, are engaged in across the country, so this is an equal protection violation under the 14th Amendment," he added. "It would almost be a joke, if it weren't so heartbreaking."

Wall was working toward entering the legal cannabis market in California, Flores-Williams said, when he was indicted in October 2019 on charges of conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana.

Prosecutors allege he transported over 1,000 kilograms of the drug from California to Maryland over a period of two years. He later fled to Guatemala, but decided to fly back to the U.S. and turn himself over to police in June last year.

Since then, he's been housed in "terrible" conditions at the Maryland facility, denied his right to a speedy trial due to the COVID pandemic and caught the virus himself, Flores-Williams said.

"He has been in that kind of temporary and terrible circumstance far longer than the jail was designed to house him," he said. "And during that time, he has gotten COVID, he's had no access to a library, no real access to recreation, no real access to programs. That has been really disturbing."

Flores-Williams said he feels an enormous responsibility toward his client, who won't go to trial until May 2022.

"He's incredibly bright and obviously he's very resilient," he said. "I'm in Denver, Colorado. After some hard days, I can just walk out of my office directly and go to a beautiful dispensary. And as I'm standing in this dispensary, I have received phone calls from the supermax from Jonathan. It's difficult to express how disturbingly absurd this is.

"You have this young man with all of this potential. He's trying to take this experience and turn it into something that will enable him to grow, yet you have a government that is trying to incarcerate him potentially for the rest of his life."

Flores-Williams called out Vice President Kamala Harris, noting that she had repeatedly promised during the 2020 presidential campaign that cannabis reform would be a priority for the Biden administration.

He urged Harris to: "Keep your promises" and "show some integrity" on the issue.

In a message to the vice president, he said: "You made a lot of your career in California in prosecuting people of color, and incarcerating people of color for marijuana.

'Waste of Resources'

"One of the reasons that we voted for you is that you would fix this law by ending federal prohibition, because you particularly know how damaging it has been to communities of people of color, and you particularly know how much of a waste of resources it has been."

In July, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer backed a long shot bill that would strike down the longstanding federal prohibition on marijuana. But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president's stance on marijuana legalization hadn't changed. He said during his campaign that marijuana offenses shouldn't land Americans in jail, but hasn't gone as far as supporting legalization.

Last month, Psaki said she didn't have a timeline for when Biden would honor a campaign pledge to free those incarcerated for marijuana offenses.

Flores-Williams said the headline of the Washington Post ad plays on a question John Kerry famously asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 50 years ago while criticizing the Vietnam War: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

"The purpose of the ad is that the Biden administration, and particularly Kamala Harris, made promises to us not just about ending federal prohibition of cannabis, but being a rational and common sense administration, bringing some rationality to government processes and laws after four years of Donald Trump," he said.

"In a lot of ways, when it comes to these very simple things, the Biden administration has just seemingly failed to do that. It's been an administration mired in inaction.

"This is a really easy fix for them. We're intending [the ad] to shine a light and create a fervent dialogue with the Biden administration that it's time to fix this problem right now."

The White House and Harris' office were contacted for comment.

Jonathan Wall Wapo ad
Wall's family and supporters took out this ad in the Washington Post to call for the decriminization of marijuana at the federal level. Courtesy of the Law Offices of Jason Flores-Williams