White House

Obama commutes prison sentence of California Healthcare Collective pot dealer

Luke Scarmazzo (left) and Ricardo Montes (middle), formerly the owners of the California Healthcare Collective, are seen in a 2008 picture. Their attorney Robert L. Forkner sits to the right.
Luke Scarmazzo (left) and Ricardo Montes (middle), formerly the owners of the California Healthcare Collective, are seen in a 2008 picture. Their attorney Robert L. Forkner sits to the right. Modesto Bee

President Barack Obama on Thursday commuted the 20-year prison sentenced imposed on Richard Ruiz Montes, convicted in 2008 for his role in the Modesto’s pot-dealing California Healthcare Collective.

In one of his final presidential acts, Obama used his executive authority to cut Montes’ sentence by more than half. Now held at a federal facility in Atwater, according to the Bureau of Prisons’ inmate locator, the 36-year-old Montes will be released May 19.

He is identified as Richard by the White House and Bureau of Prisons, but has also been known as Ricardo. The White House listed his hometown as Escalon.

His original sentence would have kept Montes incarcerated through September 2025, following his conviction on charges of conducting a continuing criminal enterprise, manufacture of marijuana and possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and related charges.

His partner with California Healthcare Collective, Luke Scarmazzo, was not included on the list of 330 commutations issued Thursday. Scarmazzo is being held at Mendota Federal Correctional Institution and is set for release in 2027, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

The two men were operating a medical marijuana dispensary, which took in a reported $6 million to $9 million in less than two years, before their arrests.

Scarmazzo and Montes said they never intended to break the law. They obtained a business license, paid taxes and made sure patients had doctors' notes before purchases.

Neither man, though, was able to use state law as a defense because under federal law, marijuana is illegal.

"President Obama made the right decision. My client did not deserve 20 years in prison for operating a medical marijuana dispensary. He had not been in trouble a day in his life before this case,” said attorney Robert Forkner, who represented Montes in the original case.

Forkner also mentioned that two of the trial jurors wrote letters in support of a commuted sentence.

The latest actions brought the total number of commutations granted by President Obama to 1,715.

"We are grateful to President Obama for the historically large number of grants in a single round and in total," said Cynthia W. Roseberry, project manager for Clemency Project 2014, which has advocated for inmates.

Several states have adopted new rules on the use of recreational and medicinal marijuana in several states, with more than half now allowing for the latter. Is this the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition?

  Comments