Back in October, New Times published a feature on people doing hard time for marijuana. One of the men profiled in the piece, Richard DeLisi, was sentenced in 1989 to 90 years for marijuana-related crimes, including trafficking and conspiracy to traffic.
Aging and in declining health, the 65-year-old DeLisi's fate is in the hands of a court hearing that will decide if he will have one of his felony conspiracy charges reduced to a second-degree misdemeanor. Last week, Judge Michael Raiden of the Polk County Courthouse began a 30 day deliberation over a motion filed by DeLisi's attorney, despite the state's objections.
"I've watched murderers, rapists, and child molesters all get out of jail before me," DeLisi told New Times via phone from the South Bay Correctional Facility for the October feature. "When I was smuggling, I always knew the consequences. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would end up like this."
DeLisi is due to be released in 2026, when he will be 77.
This means that, should the court rule against his motion, and it's ruled that DeLisi must serve out the rest of his term, he will eventually be the U.S.'s longest-serving inmate for a nonviolent marijuana-related crime.
While incarnated, DeLisi has been able to earn years shaved off his sentence for good behavior. His family has fallen on hard times in his absence.
DeLisi's attorney, Al Smith, filed a motion saying that his client had been improperly sentenced, and pointing out that he's already served 26 years in prison. Originally, the state had recommended a 13-17 year sentence.
Last Monday, Judge Raiden began a 30 day deliberation over the motion, noting that he has received a flood of letters of support from DeLisi's supporters calling for his release. Raiden also said he would be reviewing all of the motions and case records to make his final decision on DeLisi.
Meanwhile, the non-profit advocacy group Human Solution International has been running a campaign on behalf of DeLisi. The Free DeLisi campaign has called on people to write letters to Raiden, as well as place phone calls to the court or the warden on his behalf. The group also sells T-shirts and collects donations in their efforts to have DeLisi set free.
"He's not in good health and I'd like for us to get to know each other," DeLisi's daughter Ashley, 29, said via a Human Solution International press release recently. "It hasn't been easy for us outside of prison. He has grandchildren he has never met."
According to the group, the state has spent over $400,000 to keep DeLisi in prison.
"The United States houses more non-violent prisoners than anywhere else in the world, meaning we have many families unnecessarily affected by the war," the group says in a press release calling for DeLisi's release. "Over 750,000 prisoners incarcerated for cannabis related charges annually in the United States alone. In 2012, one FBI report stated there is one cannabis arrest every 42 seconds!"
Kristin Flor, Vice President at Human Solution International, is working on a documentary of DeLisi's case. "No one should have to spend their life in prison, or die for our plant," she says. "Murderers get less time than Richie, and Richie's crime left no victims."
Raiden is expected to make his judgement January 1st.
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