Man Released After Serving 31 Years of a 90-Year Sentence for Marijuana Trafficking

Richard DeLisi had been incarcerated longer than anyone else for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses

Legalizing marijuana has led to a number of legal complexities around the country.
Roberto Valdivia/Unsplash

As a growing number of states legalize marijuana — and the House of Representatives works to decriminalize it on a federal level — a growing question has been on the minds of those thinking abut the issue: namely, what should be done about the number of people currently incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses? Consider the way bootleggers have become iconic figures decades after the end of Prohibition; then think of the differences (or lack thereof) between then and now.

Until very recently, a man named Richard DeLisi was the American serving the longest sentence for a nonviolent marijuana-related conviction; he’d spent 31 years in a Florida prison as a result. His wife, his parents and his son have all died in the time since his sentence began — one slated to last for 90 years.

At The Guardian, Kenya Evelyn reports that DeLisi was released from prison this week. He is 71, and plans to spend the holidays with his family. Among those making the case for his release was the Last Prisoner Project, which has taken up the cause of releasing incarcerated people serving sentences for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Last Prisoner Project has stepped up its advocacy, citing the alarming conditions inside numerous prisons that have put many at risk. DeLisi’s sentence was already far in excess of sentencing guidelines, making his case stand out in particular. He’s far from the only person facing this predicament, however — an it’s a situation that will only get more attention as time goes by.

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