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'Longest-serving cannabis offender' to be released early from 90-year prison sentence www.nbcnews.com
After serving more than three decades in prison for nonviolent cannabis offenses, a 71-year-old man is hoping to spend Christmas this year with his family.
Richard DeLisi, who 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, 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.”
Rick DeLisi was just 11 years old when his dad was sentenced to spend what amounted to the rest of his life behind bars. Relatives were initially hesitant to share the news with him, instead waiting several weeks before explaining why Richard DeLisi was unable to return his son’s phone calls.
It wasn’t until Rick DeLisi was in his 30s that he came to fully 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.”
In the time Richard DeLisi has been imprisoned, many of his loved ones have died, including his parents, his wife and one of his sons. His daughter was badly injured in a car accident and remains paralyzed.
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. Statewide, nearly 17,000 inmates have tested positive. Currently, no inmates are in medical isolation at the prison where DeLisi is detained.
Advocates for DeLisi have worked for decades to secure his early release from prison, citing both health and legal concerns. They 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.
But the drug DeLisi was convicted of conspiring to sell is now 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.