Experts Gather for Symposium on Cannabis, Criminal Justice and Clemency

Experts Gather for Symposium 

on Cannabis, Criminal Justice and Clemency

Participants discuss the path forward on cannabis reform and criminal justice, offer a tribute to former Deputy Attorney General James Cole


On July 20, 2022, The Academy for Justice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University – in conjunction with the Justice Roundtable, the National Cannabis Roundtable and the Weldon Project’s MISSION [GREEN] – hosted an in-person, invite-only symposium to discuss clemency policy and criminal justice reform within the current landscape of U.S. cannabis law.


Speakers at the event included former H.H.S. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, former Deputy Attorney General James Cole, U.S. Pardon Attorney Elizabeth Oyer, Members of Congress from both parties, directly-impacted advocates and other experts on cannabis policy and criminal justice reform.


“It is unthinkable that our country continues to incarcerate non-violent cannabis offenders in federal prisons,” said Weldon Angelos, President and cofounder of The Weldon Project. Today’s symposium was an opportunity for us to come together and discuss a path forward to securing justice for the individuals who have been hurt by the war on cannabis. We know the Biden Administration is dedicated to criminal justice reform – now, it is time for action.”


Throughout the event, speakers held panels on cannabis justice, public safety and legislative proposals in the 118th congress. Participants also heard perspectives from advocates who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system and federal cannabis prohibition.


Former Deputy Attorney General of the United States James Cole was honored in a tribute video from Jason Hernandez, who was granted clemency by President Barack Obama in 2013 in large part due to James Coles’ efforts. The “Jim Cole Memo” was published in 2013 and developed a new set of guidelines and priorities or federal prosecutors operating in states which had legalized the medical or other adult use of cannabis. This memo helped pave the way for cannabis reform throughout the country.


“I am extremely thankful I am in the comfort of my home and not in the prison system, and that comes in large part out of the vision James Cole had during his time in the Obama Administration,” said James Hernandez. “We talk about being creative and innovative when it comes to technology, but Mr. Cole was creative and innovative when it came to criminal justice reform. I have no doubt in my mind that had Mr. Cole not taken the extraordinary steps that he did, myself and the other 1,700 individuals released through clemency would still be in prison today.”


“Federal cannabis prohibition and punitive sentencing practices have together led to the incarceration of millions of non-violent cannabis offenders over the past three decades,” said Saphira Galoob, Executive Director of the National Cannabis Roundtable. “All of this has had a disproportionate, devastating impact on communities of color, the poor and the powerless. This symposium was an opportunity to bring together the leading minds on clemency, cannabis policy and criminal justice reform to discuss a path forward.”