Mar 31: Embracing Clemency


Due to recent proactive event restrictions outlined by The Ohio State University in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the center has elected to cancel all events through July 6. We will look to reschedule Embracing Clemency for a later date. Thank you for your understanding.

Embracing Clemency: a look at current efforts to address collateral consequences from the War on Drugs

When: Tuesday, March 31, 2020 at noon
Where: Drinko Hall, Room 244

In recent years, clemency has garnered increasing attention as bipartisan pressure to address the harms caused by the war on drugs has intensified. Despite continued reform of the criminal justice system, pardons, commutations and reprieves remain underutilized tools at both the state and federal level.

Join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center for a lunchtime event featuring a panel of clemency experts and activists. Panelists will discuss ongoing efforts to bring relief to those languishing in prison and enduring collateral consequences resulting from long-past convictions. Particular attention will be given to persons convicted and still being punished for cannabis offenses in an era of legal reforms as the panelists discuss the challenges and opportunities related to clemency work.


Beth Curtis
, Founder of Life for Pot

Beth Curtis is the found of Life for Pot, an organization that advocates for sentencing relief for marijuana offenders serving sentences of life without parole for nonviolent marijuana offenses and offenders serving defacto life sentences. In 1994, Beth’s younger brother, John Knock, was indicted in the Northern District of Florida for a marijuana conspiracy. In 2000 he was tried and convicted and received a sentence of two life terms plus 20 years. John was a first-time nonviolent offender. When her brother’s appeals were completed in 2008, Beth began to gather the stories of other nonviolent marijuana offenders with life sentences and advocate for sentencing relief for this category. Beth has a master’s degree in social work from The Ohio State University and has worked in the financial services industry and served on a variety of non-profit governing boards.

Sarah Gersten, Executive Director and General Counsel for the Last Prisoner Project

Throughout her career, Sarah Gersten has worked at the intersection of cannabis legalization and criminal justice reform. Sarah currently serves as Executive Director and General Counsel for the Last Prisoner Project. After working as an attorney at a congressional agency where she focused on legislative policy, Sarah co-founded a cannabis centric law firm where she led the firm’s pro bono initiative, taking on expungement and record sealing cases. Sarah went on to co-found and serve as CEO for a legal tech startup that offers affordable legal solutions for small cannabis business owners, as well as free expungement services. Sarah is a member of the National Cannabis Bar Association and the NORML Legal Committee. She received her JD from Harvard Law School.

Kevin Stanek, Associate at Barnes & Thornburg

Kevin represents governmental clients on policy matters and other legal issues before the Ohio General Assembly, executive agencies, and state boards and commissions. In his previous roles in state government, Kevin advised on policy initiatives and operational decisions of business-centric Ohio state agencies and external partners. Kevin partnered with the Ohio governor’s Department of Legislative Affairs to manage and influence policy implications of proposed or pending legislation and coordinated implementation of Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program. Moreover, Kevin managed the clemency process for Governor Kasich, reviewing every clemency application, attending parole board hearings when appropriate, and presenting recommended candidates to the governor for his approval.

Moderator: DEPC Director Douglas A. Berman, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University