The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads as follows: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. Here at the Free Thought Project we feel that 90 years in prison without the possibility of parole for selling a plant is not only excessive but extremely cruel. Sadly, however, it is not unusual.
Richard DeLisi, 71, has been in prison for the last 31 years for selling cannabis. In 1989, he was caught smuggling the plant — which has never killed anyone — into Florida. The judge mistakenly thought DeLisi was part of organized crime because he was an Italian from New York, so he sentenced him to 90 years in prison.
During his time in prison, DeLisi’s family reportedly spent more than $250,000 on attorneys’ fees and over $80,000 on long-distance international collect calls. Finally, this month, all that time and money paid off and DeLisi was freed.
DeLisi’s release was bitter sweet, however. While locked in a cage for selling a plant, DeLisi’s parents, wife, and son all passed away. His adult daughter was also in a horrific car accident and suffered a paralyzing stroke as a result.
Because the state kidnaps and cages people for possessing a plant, this poor man missed his own son’s funeral and did not get to say goodbye to his parents or wife. Tragic indeed.
Instead of dwelling in a pit of negativity, however, DeLisi says he is moving on and is extremely thankful for his 11-year-old and 1-year-old granddaughters.
“I’m a blessed human being, a survivor,” DeLisi said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
“Prison changed me”, he said. “I never really knew who God was and now I know and it changed the way I talk to people and treat people,” said DeLisi, who became a mentor to younger inmates. “For me, being there so long, I was able to take gang members from gangs to gentleman.”
He now wants “to make the best of every bit of my time” fighting for the release of other inmates through his organization FreeDeLisi.com.
“The system needs to change and I’m going to try my best to be an activist,” he said. We agree. The system is due for massive change and we hope that DeLisi is successful in his mission as it’s not just sentences like DeLisi’s that are excessive. Any time anyone is deprived of their freedom or extorted by government for possessing or partaking in this plant, it is cruel and excessive, yet sadly it remains a function of this entire system.
In the United States, cannabis is legal in some form in most of the country. One would think that with this widespread legalization, which seems to be speeding up, that police officers would start concentrating their efforts elsewhere and arrest actual criminals who hurt people — not kidnap and cage innocent people for using a plant. Sadly, however, the incentives for arresting cannabis users are too addictive and the police state marches on, laying waste to all the lives it touches along the way.
According to the recently released Uniform Crime Report police arrested 545,602 people for cannabis related crimes in 2019. That arrest rate is 9% higher than the 495,871 people arrested for violent crimes the same year.
As Forbes points out, cops aren’t arresting cannabis kingpins with thousands of pounds of pot, they like to prey on the little people, known to cops as the low hanging fruit.
The vast majority of these arrests (92%) were for simple possession of the drug. 500,395 of those arrested for cannabis were simply found in possession of cannabis. Even if we take out all the arrests for being involved in unregulated cannabis commerce and just focus on arrests for cannabis possession, the numbers still outpace arrests for violent crimes.
What’s more, according to the Last Prisoner Project, the non-profit who helped free DeLisi, at least 40,000 prisoners are currently serving sentences for cannabis infractions that are now legal.
“Police across America make a marijuana-related arrest every 58 seconds,” explains Erik Altieri, the Executive Director for cannabis advocacy group NORML. “At a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans want cannabis to be legal and regulated, it is an outrage that many police departments across the country continue to waste tax dollars and limited law enforcement resources on arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for simple marijuana possession.”