NewsLocal News


Advocates believe forgiveness for marijuana crimes does not go far enough

Posted at 5:25 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 20:37:18-04

PHOENIX — Since Arizona county attorneys started accepting applications from those looking to dismiss prior marijuana possession charges, the Maricopa County Attorney's office has been busy.

A spokeswoman said their attorneys have prepared 5,714 petitions to expunge marijuana charges from defendant records across Maricopa County within the last few months.

Officials say 614 of those petitions were done so on behalf of someone who asked for assistance via the county attorney's website. The remaining 5,100 were proactively prepared by the county attorney's office after a review of information in their case management system. Those were filed based on the attorney's knowledge of the change in state law.

While this means a second chance at rebuilding their lives for so many Arizonans, some advocates feel this forgiveness should be extended to others who may not fit the criteria of the expungement process, which allows for small amounts of pot to be in possession at the time of the crime. There are many who were charged with possessing more than the amount listed in the expungement criteria. Many believe their cases too should be considered for expungement as well.

Chris Martin, a Valley businessman who owns Hempful Farms, a store selling CBD and hemp-based products in Phoenix was one of them. He is now working with a national advocacy group called "The Weldon Project" to help those like Martin appeal for pardons from their state governor and get that same second chance to rebuild their lives, that others have been getting.

Even though Martin has been able to launch his own business, the label of "felon" has held him back from many things in life. Martin was arrested in 2012, right after pot was legalized for medical use in Arizona.

Martin started producing flavored chocolate bars called "Zonka bars" to give to those medical marijuana cardholders who did not want to smoke the plant. Law requires Martin to partner with a licensed dispensary to sell his candy bars, but at the time, Arizona had not awarded any licenses to future dispensary owners, so there are none for him to partner with.

Martin's business was raided by law enforcement agents, and he was charged with a long list of drug-related crimes.

"They even went as far as calling me a gang member because I belonged to a motorcycle club in town," said Martin.

Martin said his intent was simply to give relief to those with various illnesses like cancer, so they could have an alternative form of relief, other than the prescription drugs they had access to.

"I never set out to commit a crime or break a rule or go to prison for a plant. I was just healing myself and the people around me with medicines that we knew made us feel better," said Martin.

He was slapped with 15 felony charges, a $2 million dollar fine, and up to life in prison. Since then, Martin's story has been featured in a Netflix documentary and multiple TV shows.

Martin's story also caught the attention of Weldon Angelos, a man who was sent to prison at a young age for a low-level pot crime and went on to receive a presidential pardon by former President Donald Trump, after his case was highlighted by many celebrities in the music world.

Angelos said he received a 55-year prison sentence for selling less than $1,000 of pot before he received his pardon. Now he is on a mission to help others convicted of cannabis-related offenses get "pardoned" for their crimes.

"Prosecutors often over-charge these cases. They sometimes put enhanced penalties on them so there has been no consistency on how these sentences are handled at the federal and state levels. I'm not talking about cartel-level dealers here," said Angelos in an interview with ABC15.

The Weldon Project is now dedicated to helping fund social change for those like Martin.

"The moment he got out of prison; he turned his life around. He started his own company, started a non-profit, he is successful," said Angelos.

In addition to Hempful Farms, Martin has also founded a non-profit called "Coloring books for Convicts" that works to deliver art supplies to local jails and prisons, and he is involved in a project to help foster children who are aging out of the system, as he works to win his own second chance at life.

"My goal is to help them stay out of jail because they are very vulnerable when they age out and they're on their own. I want to make sure they don't go down the wrong path and turn to drugs, or dealing drugs," said Martin.

Martin plans to send Governor Doug Ducey's office paperwork to appeal for his pardon this week.