By: Marie Scarci | October 25, 2022
When Edwin Rubis heard about President Biden’s announcement earlier this month that he would be pardoning certain individuals with marijuana convictions, he realized how left out his situation was. He has spent more than two decades in federal prison for his involvement as part of a cannabis distribution conspiracy. Others who are currently behind bars also had their fate sealed by the president's decision not to commute sentences or release anyone else from incarceration because, as White House officials said, there is no one currently in federal prison solely for simple possession of cannabis.
“I might have belonged in prison when I first came in, the first 2, 3, 4 years, but I have done so many things that the system has asked me to do. I believe I’m truly rehabilitated.” Rubis stated in a phone interview. “I don’t belong in prison any longer.”
Monday was a busy day for those advocating for change. The White House has been the scene of many protests in recent months, and monday protesters gathered outside the White House in support of cannabis reform. They're there to advocate for people like Rubis, who have been imprisoned for non-violent crimes involving cannabis. In Washington D C where public perception has shifted towards acceptance, and in 41 other states and Puerto Rico that now have some form of legalization, it seems that the stigma related to cannabis is starting to fade.
The Last Prisoner Project has estimated that there are 2,800 people in federal prison due to marijuana-related convictions. The organization said this statistic stems from a 2021 report by Recidiviz - one of many organizations working on criminal justice reform efforts with technology and data aimed at helping them build tools for advocacy campaigns targeted at prisoners' families as well advocates who work within law enforcement agencies or court systems themselves.
While incarcerated Rubis has earned a master’s in Christian Counseling and also holds two other degrees and is currently working on his doctorate. Rubis cares for his fellow people who are incarcerated by teaching them about the Bible while they're behind bars and helping them get an education. Not only has he mentored others he has also led bible studies, worked as dental assistant and as a law library clerk, trying to remain positive about his situation, a 40 year sentence.
He is beloved by prison staff members, who admire his kind nature, patience and also his dedication to bettering not just himself but also others, all while maintaining a positive attitude. This all led to several staff members, including a unit manager and the staff chaplain, who wrote letters trying to get Rubis’s sentence reduced.
“It almost feels like this was a test to see if the cannabis community was naive or stupid enough to mistake an announcement like this for what we were promised,” Steve DeAngelo, the founder of the Last Prisoner Project says. “It was more of a self-serving political fig leaf than any real action for change."
Joe Biden’s pardon could free about 6,500 people nationwide with federal marijuana convictions since 1992. Convictions previous to 1992 are also eligible but the statistics are not available because they were not recorded. The President urged governors to issue pardons as he has because most pot-related sentences historically come from state level law enforcement agencies rather than from the federal level.
During an exchange from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Joe Biden at a debate back in 2019 Biden said “I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period, and I think everyone, anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their records expunged, and be completely zeroed out.”
Rubis doesn't disagree about being in prison for his actions in the 1990’s, but he doesn't believe that decades in prison is a fair punishment. When you are in prison, it can be hard to know what will happen with your family. Rubis has thought about this a lot and tried not to let his worries get the best of him. He hopes that when he is released he will be able to see his parents again. Rubis tries to stay positive by packing his cell with books and he has over 100 of them, and his Bible- being his one source for motivation as well as inspiration for him daily.