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Utah in the Weeds Episode 18 – Weldon Angelos – 55 Year Prison Sentence for $900 Worth of Cannabis

Episode Audio

What You Will Learn in This Podcast

Who is Weldon Angelos? [0:56]
Weldon’s trial and sentence [06:41]
Efforts to change Weldon’s prison sentence [8:26]
Weldon’s experience in prison [09:18]
How Weldon was able to have his sentence commuted [10:51]
Weldon’s life after prison [12:24]
Weldon’s efforts to help others in prison [14:03]
Why the Mission Green project is focused on federal prisoners [19:02]
Mission Green’s cannabis brand [21:57]
Adjusting to life after prison [22:45]
More about the documentary [24:29]
Weldon’s thoughts on medical vs. recreational marijuana [29:42]
The Weldon Project’s work to have rap artist Loon released from prison [35:02]
Weldon’s day to day life [36:43]
How Weldon learned the laws around cannabis [37:59]
How you can get involved with the Weldon Project & Mission Green [42:18]

Resources in This Episode

UtahMarijuana.org

IAmSaltLake.com

Utah in the Weeds Podcast

@utahintheweeds on Instagram

The Weldon Project

Podcast Summary

Who is Weldon Angelos? [0:56]

Weldon has a background in music production, working with artists such as Snoop Dogg and Tupac. Weldon also was involved in bringing rap artists on tour to Salt Lake City.

As Weldon became more popular in the area, the Salt Lake City Metro Gang Unit began to take notice and investigated him. It was determined later that law enforcement was concerned with Weldon efforts to promote cannabis and urban culture in Utah. They were worried about “moral corruption.” An arrest of Weldon would also look good on the records of those law enforcement officials and help them get promoted.

A childhood acquaintance of Weldon became an informant for the Metro Gang Unit. Weldon gave the informant $300 worth of cannabis on three different occasions.  The prosecutor on his case was able to turn these three transactions into a 20 count federal indictment with a minimum of 105 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Weldon’s trial and sentence [06:41]

The prosecutor introduced evidence from Weldon’s work in music and clothing to make a case. For example, in the closing argument, the prosecutor used lyrics from an album he produced to describe his character, even though he did not write the lyrics. The prosecutor also used Snoop Dogg’s clothing line, East Side LBC, as evidence of gang affiliation.

Ultimately, Weldon was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

Efforts to change Weldon’s prison sentence [8:26]

Before sentencing, the judge for Weldon’s trial asked President George W. Bush to commute the sentence. He believed that the mandatory sentencing he was required to impose was cruel, unjust, and irrational. However, this effort was unsuccessful. Thus, the judge was forced to sentence Weldon to 55 years without parole in federal prison.

A young prosecutor named Mike Lee disagreed with the way his colleagues treated Weldon. A few years later, Mike Lee (R-Utah) became a U.S. Senator. He did not forget Weldon, and introduced legislation to fix his sentence.

Weldon’s experience in prison [09:18]

At 24 years old, Weldon was sent to the United States Penitentiary, Lompoc in California. USP Lompoc is a medium security prison for male inmates. He served his prison sentence alongside violent criminals, murders and “lifers.” 

Requests for appeals were denied, so his only hope for getting out of prison was clemency from President Bush. He believed that President Bush would likely not grant him clemency, so he and his team focused their efforts on the next president, Barack Obama.

How Weldon was able to have his sentence commuted [10:51]

Weldon and his team were able to build a coalition of celebrities and politicians to help get his sentence commuted, including Snoop Dogg, Alicia Keys, Bonnie Raitt, Mike Epps, and Senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Cory Booker.

Later, the Koch Brothers joined the effort to get Weldon’s sentence commuted, which was a shock to him and his team. The judge who presided over Weldon’s trial also stepped down from a lifetime appointment and became his advocate.

A petition was sent to President Obama that included signatures from over 150 lawmakers, including judges, former federal prosecutors, former U.S. Attorney Janet Reno, and many other former U.S. attorneys. 

Finally, on May 31, 2016, Weldon was released from federal prison.

Weldon’s life after prison [12:24]

As soon as Weldon was released from prison, he hit the ground running to work on criminal justice reform. He was part of the coalition lobbying for the First Step Act, which was legislation to “improve criminal justice outcomes, as well as to reduce the size of the federal prison population while also creating mechanisms to maintain public safety.” The legislation was signed into law by President Trump in 2018.

Senators Mike Lee and Cory Booker used Weldon’s story on the Senate floor as an example of why we need to change the system. In fact, one of the provisions in the act is named after him.

Weldon’s efforts to help others in prison [14:03]

The First Step Act was a great step towards criminal justice reform, but the act did not apply to purely cannabis cases. 

Weldon’s tells the story of Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes, California dispensary operators who were convicted in federal court under a “kingpin” statute. They were arrested after Luke created a satire video saying “[expletive] the FEDs!”

Medical Marijuana was legalized in California at the time. However, because federal law still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, federal officials were still able to arrest and prosecute them.

President Obama did commute the sentence of Ricardo Montes. However, he denied Luke’s request. 

Weldon met Luke when they were in prison. When Weldon’s sentence was commuted, Luke asked Weldon not to forget about him.

To help Luke and others like him, Weldon is launching an initiative called Mission Green, uniting the entertainment industry with those in the cannabis industry who can help fund this initiative. 

Weldon is working with White House Advisor Jared Kushner, former governor Gary Johnson, NBA Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett, and others to help get people like Luke out of prison who are in the federal system for cannabis offenses.

Why the Mission Green project is focused on federal prisoners [19:02]

Unlike the state penitentiary system where there is the option of parole or even expungement as state laws change, in the federal system there is no relief unless the President of the United States commutes your sentence or Congress acts to change federal laws.

Thus, low-level drug offenses or cases in states that have legalized possession of marijuana still have significant minimum mandatory sentences. 

Mission Green’s goal is to have more cases like Luke Scarmazzo commuted, putting pressure on Congress to change laws.

Mission Green’s cannabis brand [21:57]

Mission Green is launching a cannabis brand called REEForm. The goal of this brand is to give the proceeds from sales to cannabis federal prisoner commissary accounts. 

REEForm is in partnership with one of the biggest packaging companies in the country called Kush Supply Co. They are providing packaging at near cost and on credit, which will help REEForm grow nationally.

Adjusting to life after prison [22:45]

Weldon’s criminal justice reform work was a good distraction for him after prison. In his final months in prison, he knew he would be released, but did not know the date. When he finally was released, he asked friends and family to keep it a secret to give him a few days to get some sun, buy new clothes, and re-adjust to life.

Eventually, a story ran in the Washington Post that announced his release to the world. This sparked weeks of phone calls from the press and requests for him to speak around the country. 

Instead of becoming bitter or returning to music, Weldon decided to use this platform to push for criminal justice reform. He is also working on a documentary and movie deal.

More about the documentary [24:29]

The documentary will be a 90 minute feature film. Weldon is currently in discussions with HBO for the project.

The documentary is produced by NBA Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett and Mark Wahlberg, and will feature Snoop Dogg, TI, President Trump, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and more.

Weldon’s thoughts on medical vs. recreational marijuana [29:42]

Weldon believes that everyone should have access to cannabis. Weldon also believes that home grow should also be an option for cannabis users. 

He would like to see cannabis deregulated at the federal level and left up to the states to regulate, similar to how alcohol is regulated.

Weldon believes in working in a bi-partisan way to improve legislation. He has worked on both sides of the aisle, including with President Trump, White House Advisor Jared Kushner, and Senators Cory Booker, and Mike Lee. 

The Weldon Project’s work to have rap artist Loon released from prison  [35:02]

The Weldon Project is working with the federal system to have the rap artist Loon released from prison.  

Update since this podcast was released: Loon was released from prison on July 29.

Weldon’s day to day life [36:43]

Weldon spends his days writing legal briefs for people in prison for cannabis, working on his cannabis brand, and networking. He continues to advocate for people in prison, male and female. 

How Weldon learned the laws around cannabis [37:59]

While in prison, Weldon spent much of his time studying law. With the help of his sister, he used this knowledge to campaign for his release from prison.

How you can get involved with the Weldon Project & Mission Green [42:18]

You can go to TheWeldonProject.org to donate or volunteer. 

By UtahMarijuana.org
Published September 14, 2020
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