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Realities of Life Imprisonment for Cannabis Users

Prison Cannabis Now Magazine
Photo by Drew Duncan


Realities of Life Imprisonment for Cannabis Users

As the smoke clears from Wednesday’s worldwide celebration of 420, let us not forget those who are paying an extremely heavy price for our freedom — nonviolent offenders who are serving a life sentence for marijuana.

Only four days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Lee Carroll Brooker, a 75-year-old veteran from Alabama who received a life sentence with no chance of parole after he was found guilty growing marijuana that he claims was for his own personal, medical use in 2011. Lower courts admitted the conviction was excessive and unjust.

“In my view, Brooker’s sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a nonviolent, drug-regulated crime reveals grave flaws in our statutory sentencing scheme,” Alabama Supreme Court C.J. Moore wrote in his opinion on the case.

Needless to say, Brooker’s case has attracted the attention of sentencing reform advocates who deem it an extreme example of the flaws in the system.

At 81-years-old, Antonio Bascaro is the longest-serving prisoner behind bars for a marijuana conspiracy offense. Bascaro is a first-time offender serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug crime. He has been in jail for over 36 years.

And it’s not only older offenders who are serving life sentences. Though he wasn’t a first-time offender, 35-year-old “lifer” Corvain Cooper was sentenced to life without parole as recently as 2014.

With that said, many lifers are also in for a first offense. Craig Cesal repaired trucks that had been used to transport marijuana and has been serving a life sentence since 2002. John Knock is a non-violent, first-time marijuana offender, convicted in a “dry conspiracy” where no marijuana was actually found. Knock has been incarcerated since 1996.

Monday’s ruling by the Supreme Court is a obviously an excruciating setback for Brooker, as well as all the other inmates serving life sentences without parole for marijuana offenses, according to Cheri Sicard, founder and director of the Marijuana Lifer Project (MLP), a nonprofit organization advocating for prisoners serving life sentences for cannabis-related convictions.

“Our mission is to insure that all those serving life sentences for marijuana, whether life without parole or de-facto life, are released, as well as to bring awareness to this issue so that the practice stops happening,” states Sicard.

Through community and media outreach, and engaging elected officials and other high profile individuals, MLP aims to achieve its goal to free cannabis-convicted prisoners serving life sentences. Monitoring legislation that affects criminal sentencing, MLP educates the public as to the government’s impact on all those convicted, along with how any of us on the outside can help — which probably includes pretty much all those who were out there participating in Wednesday’s wide array of 420 festivities.

“Anytime a marijuana lifer case is given attention by the higher courts, it gives all the lifers hope,” Sicard states. “Post-conviction relief is an incredibly rare thing, so a lot of people’s hopes hinge on such cases. But hope can be a fragile thing, especially in prison. Hope can quickly turn to despair if things don’t go the right way. Sadly though, there are many senior citizens like [Brooker] who have been rotting away for decades in prison over pot.”

Have a personal opinion about life imprisonment for convicted cannabis offenders? We’d like to hear what you have to say.

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