Barbed wire on a prison

America’s longest-serving cannabis offender is being released

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Richard DeLisi was sentenced to 90 years in prison back in 1989 after he was convicted of trafficking just 100 pounds of cannabis from Jamaica to the US.

DeLisi is a 71-year-old grandfather who has been stuck in the Florida Prison System for 31 years. He was convicted for nonviolent cannabis offences after he was accused of being the “mastermind” of an operation that would have transported 1,500 pounds of cannabis into the US. DeLisi originally faced court with his brother, with lawyers arguing the brothers were victims of entrapment at the hands of a law enforcement informant. 

Both brothers were expected to be sentenced to between 22 and 27 years in prison, which would have been consistent with other sentences in the ’80s. Instead, Judge Dennis Maloney sentenced DeLisi to 90 years in prison – three consecutive 30-year sentences.

Richard DeLisi Then Now
Richard DeLisi – Then & Now

While DeLisi was in prison, he missed the death of his parents, wife and a son, as well as the birth of his five grandchildren. 

DeLisi is now expected to be released by Christmas after his health has declined. He has hypertension, diabetes, arthritis and has had several mini-strokes. Over 420 of his fellow inmates at South Bay Correctional Facility have also tested positive to COVID-19, putting his life in danger.

While DeLisi has been in prison, attitudes around cannabis have changed in the US, with 17 jurisdictions fully legalising cannabis. In Florida (where DeLisi was sentenced) cannabis is legal for medical purposes. 

DeLisi owes his freedom to the Last Prisoner Project, who have provided him with pro-bono legal help while he applied for clemency. In a statement on their website, DeLisi’s Lead Attorney Chiara Juster wrote:

The fact that dear Richard is the longest-serving nonviolent cannabis offender currently incarcerated in our country is a truly sick indictment of our nation.

Over 15.7 million people were arrested for cannabis offences in the last ten years, according to the Last Prisoner Project.

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