Valon Vailes has a new, heavy-weight advocate in his corner. The rapper Jay-Z has become a vocal proponent of Vailes, who has been serving time in prison for distributing marijuana. As reported by Page Six, “In December 2007, Vailes, now 55, was found guilty by a jury for conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than one ton of marijuana from 2003 to 2007.”
Jay-Z was made aware of Vailes’ situation via a letter in which Vailes stated, “This correspondence is a plea to ask for your help with the intent to campaign for my clemency. 13 and a half years is a long time to be still incarcerated over a substance that has become the ultimate green rush.”
Consequently, Jay-Z’s legal team has made two pleas on behalf of Vailes for his release. According to Ny MaGee of the publication,thegrio.com, “Jay-Z’s attorney Alex Spiro filed the first motion in August. It noted that Vailes had been “a model inmate,” and that his family “desperately needs his support and assistance, and he does not present a recidivism risk.” However, as MaGee explains, “The first motion was denied over the inmate’s COVID-19 vaccination record.”
Undaunted, Spiro filed a second motion on the grounds of compassionate release. Spiro argued, “Mr. Vailes’ motion for compassionate release does not mention COVID-19 and does not rely on any COVID-19-related argument as a basis for arguing in favor of a reduced sentence.”
Spiro laid out his case for Vailes’ release, stating: “Mr. Vailes has exhausted his administrative remedies with the [Federal Bureau of Prisons]; extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant compassionate release in his case; the relevant factors support release; and Mr. Vailes is not a danger to the community,” adding, “Mr. Vailes is the sole available caretaker for his mentally ill brother whom is in desperate need of Mr. Vailes’ support.”
Change.org has joined the cause for Vailes’ release, stating in a petition:
“Over the past 12-years of Mr. Vailes’ incarceration, the recreational use of marijuana has become legalized in several states across America, such as the “Commonwealth” state of Massachusetts, Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. We are living in a different time, where marijuana is, a commodity amongst the pharmaceutical companies, due to the high demand of the medicinal use of marijuana, that has been legalized in 24 states in America for ‘medical use only’; the therapeutic hash is at an all-time time.”
With this petition, change.org is making a painfully obvious statement: Most people in America have moved on; it’s time for the criminal justice system to do the same. Right now, there are thousands of dispensaries across the United States that are selling billions of dollars of weed. Currently, the U.S. marijuana market is worth $61 billion and is projected to reach $80 billion dollars, according to Flow Hub, a cannabis technology company.
And growersnetwork.org estimates that 4.7 million pounds of cannabis per year in the US are sold legally. And while the owners of these dispensaries are growing rich from selling legal weed, Mr. Vailes is rotting in prison for selling 2,000 pounds over a period of four years. I am not excusing Mr. Vailes’ behavior. He broke the law and there should be consequences.
And there have been consequences–serious consequences. To begin with, he has already served over 13 years. During this time, he has suffered. As Mr. Vailes explained:“While incarcerated, I have lost loved ones. My mother passed in 2020; my grandmother in 2009; my nephew in 2020. Also, my best friend died from COVID in 2021. I have four children and 3 granddaughters.”
So while thousands of people have cashed in on the “green rush,” life has rushed by Mr. Vailes.
Consider this. When Lee Farkas was chairman of the Ocala-based mortgage giant Taylor, Bean and Whitaker in 2009, he was involved in a $3 billion fraud scheme, thus contributing to the mortgage crisis that had devastating effects across multiple sectors of the economy. As the Orlando Sentinel reported, “The fraud led not only to the collapse of his company and the loss of 2,000 jobs, but also to the collapse of Alabama-based Colonial Bank, the sixth-largest bank failure in U.S. history at the time.”
And although Farkas was sentenced to 30 years, he was released after 9 years on a compassionate cause plea. And in a moment that smacks of both irony and hypocrisy, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema of Alexandria, Virginia, provided the following rationale for his release: “Yes it was a large financial crime, but he was not the only person engaged in that type of crime.”
So, is this how it works in the United States, even in 2021? The rich and powerful get special treatment for a crime that damaged multiple people while Mr. Vailes gets a different form of justice for an essentially victimless crime, for a type of transaction that now goes on every day in thousands of dispensaries across the United States? This is why journalist Thor Benson has declared, “The War on Drugs will go down in history as the most racist crusade since slavery.”
The war on drugs may be slowly winding down, but it’s not over yet, and there are still many battles to be fought, and many lives to redeem. But to do that, we must speak the truth. That may be more difficult than we would like to admit, however. As Dominic Milton Trott, author of The Honest Drugs Book and an outspoken critic of the war on drugs said, “Truth is the first casualty of war and the war on drugs is no different.”
It’s time to speak the truth. And it’s time for Mr. Vailes to be released. That would at least be the beginning of a compassionate cause.
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