Updated November 21, 2020 at 9:26 AM CT

After serving over 3 decades for nonviolent cannabis offenses, man may be freed    

       Richard DeLisi was sentenced in 1989 to 90 years in prison for conspiring to traffic more than 100 pounds of cannabis into the U.S. from Jamaica. Now, after serving more than three decades in prison for nonviolent cannabis offenses, the 71-year-old is hoping to spend Christmas this year with his family. He could be released as early as Dec. 4 amid failing health and the worsening coronavirus pandemic, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

He is described as the “longest-serving cannabis offender in the country” by the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit organization working towards criminal justice reform for marijuana-related crimes. Lawyers from the Last Prisoner Project have been working pro bono to help secure DeLisi’s release from South Bay Correctional Facility in Palm Beach County, where hundreds of inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus since March.

“It has been a lifetime of heartache and loss,” said DeLisi’s son, Rick DeLisi. “We look forward to making the memories that a family should be able to make. I can’t wait to know my father is a free man.”

The son was just 11 years old when his dad was sentenced to spend what amounted to the rest of his life behind bars. It wasn’t until Rick DeLisi was in his 30s that he understand what happened to his father.

“It’s a heavy burden,” he said. “You constantly hope for some change, and when you put in these petitions, these clemency appeals, and nothing ever budges at all, you feel like you’re never going to unlock the door.”

The threat of coronavirus has spread as DeLisi’s health declined. He has diabetes, hypertension, arthritis and has suffered a series of mini strokes, putting him in the highest risk category if he were to contract Covid-19.

As of Thursday, 421 inmates and 86 staff had tested positive at South Bay Correctional Facility, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. 

Advocates for DeLisi have argued that he was never charged or convicted of a violent crime and was instead used as an example by an overzealous judge who wanted to send a warning to other would-be drug dealers.

DeLisi and his older brother, Ted DeLisi, were convicted by a Polk County judge of trafficking cannabis, conspiracy to traffic cannabis and violating the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act, a federal law passed in 1970 that allows for added criminal penalties for acts performed as part of a criminal organization.

And now that very drug is legal in 15 states, two territories and Washington, D.C.

Florida, where DeLisi was convicted and sentenced, is one of 34 states with a medical cannabis program.

Earlier this month, voters in five states approved amendments to legalize some form of cannabis use. 

Oregon, citing ‘Hold my beer,’ became the first state to make possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, violations not punishable by jail time.



Ran DeBord - All Access Sporting News

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Attributes: AASNSports; USAToday; FDC

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