Medical Marijuana POWs: Ricardo Montes and Luke Scarmazzo

Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes

The story of two California native sons who owned a medical marijuana dispensary and have spent 9 years of their lives, so far, incarcerated for it.

Luke and daughter, Jaz

Luke and daughter, Jaz

I AM WRITING to suggest the relating of a timely and meaningful story of two of California’s native sons who are presently personally paying their tolls for being caught up in the War on Drugs. Covering their experiences will grab the attention of the public for several reasons. There is presently a bi-party national focus on criminal justice reform and over-incarceration, not to mention majority public approval of medical marijuana legalization. The public experience involving these native sons is still fresh in California’s citizens’ memories since the last reporting in 2008. I believe publishing an in-depth article now will draw the attention of many new readers through investigative reporting of their circumstances in 2016.

First, we know public opinion about the drug war and punishment of non-violent criminals is rapidly changing, and even in 2008 it was evolving. Societal views about the seriousness of offenses incarcerated individuals committed are changing. (1) Specifically, following Ricardo and Luke’s sentencing for operating a medical marijuana dispensary in Modesto, CA two members of their jury recanted their guilty votes and gave affidavits stating 20 year sentences were too severe a punishment for the convicted crimes. (2) Public opinion about lengthy punishment terms was already transforming to support judicial latitude in sentencing and reject mandatory minimum sentencing.

Some legislative actions have already successfully reduced sentence terms, thus freeing non-violent inmates. Additional initiatives are being considered to reduce the prison population of non-violent drug offenders. Minority groups are over represented in prison populations with long sentences having been meted out due to mandatory minimums. President Obama actively began to address this issue as a priority two years ago. We are familiar with the Clemency Project 2014 (CP14) and its focus. Others like Van Jones #cut50, Alicia Keyes #WeAreHere and their joint Movement, #WeAreHere for #JusticeReformNOW and many public personalities are sponsoring efforts to support a prison population reduction. There are many organizations which are actively lobbying to assist inmates to apply for clemency. The CA based CAN-DO Foundation, Justice through Clemency, is just one of these.

Rising above these societal issues of over-incarceration, mandatory minimums’ application and presently, the public opinion wave in favor of criminal justice reform, is telling the important human story of Ricardo and Luke. This is a story of two fathers of four young children. These children have lived nine years without their fathers being at home to offer counsel and living life with them. These men are missing from the local workforce to earn an income and they are unable to contribute their talents to the community through volunteer work. They are not there to assist aging parents or to share in life’s celebratory moments – all due to their long sentences.

Ricardo and children

Ricardo and children

In November 2015 Ricardo and Luke filed their petitions for executive clemency with the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA). We understand over 9000 petitions are currently filed with OPA while over 10,000 petitions have been submitted to CP14 (there may be some duplicate filings.) However, neither OPA or CP14 make any attempt to 1- acknowledge receipt of petitions nor 2- communicate in any manner individual on-going status of the processing progress. By this abject neglect of basic communications to individuals who have applied, both organizations promote, by default, treating these inmate applicants as entities not worthy of knowing anything about the results of their own efforts or their futures.

I am enclosing copies of both Ricardo and Luke’s Memorandums in Support of Commutation for you to read their own written statements of how they are changed men and what they plan for their futures. In regard to their legal cases, I want you to know the following critical points about their continuing incarceration:

  • Luke and Ricardo are the ONLY Medical Marijuana Dispensary Operators who have been charged with conducting a Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE).
  • Luke and Ricardo are serving the longest federal prison sentences given to Medical Marijuana Dispensary Operators.
  • Due to changes beginning in 2009 in Department of Justice (DOJ) charging practices (3) (4), new Congressional laws enacted beginning in 2014 and effective through 2016 (5), and, importantly, a recent federal court ruling that prevents the DOJ from taking action against state-compliant medical marijuana owners/operators (6), Luke and Ricardo would not be charged today if they were operating a Medical Marijuana Dispensary in CA.


I am Ricardo and Luke’s clemency advocate and am writing on their behalves asking for consideration to bring their new and present story to the public. We are seeking support from citizens who may remember this case and, importantly, from those who are not familiar with the case but likely will be keenly interested in learning about it. By taking a second look at what happened in 2006-2008 and bringing the public up-to-date on their status, in light of today’s trends, coverage of these men will be well-received.

Help to free Ricardo and Luke by signing the “Clemency Now for Ricardo and Luke” petition:

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(1) Ryan, Meghan, Taking Another Look at Second-Look Sentencing. Southern Methodist University, Dedman School of Law, Dec. 30, 2015.
(2) Doc. 307, Declarations of Craig Will and Larry A. Silva, August 25, 2008
(3) Memorandum from David W. Ogden, Deputy Att’y Gen. of the United States, to selected U.S. Attorneys regarding Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana, October 19, 2009
(4) Memorandum from James M. Cole, Deputy Att’y Gen. of the United States, to U.S. Attorneys regarding Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement, August 29, 2013
(5) H. Amdt. 332(Rohrabacher) to H.R. 2578 (passed 242-176): Amendment prohibits the use of funds in the bill to supersede State law in those States that have legalized the use of medical marijuana, 114th Congress, June 3, 2015
(6) United States v. MAMM, No. 3:98-cv-00086 CRB, Document 277, (N.D. Cal. Oct. 15, 2015)


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