Allen Russell just got his life in prison for owning weeds in Mississippi
In 2019 Mississippi resident Allen Russell was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of possessing more than 30 grams of cannabis. Despite a rapid movement to legalize cannabis across the country, an appeals court upheld the verdict last week, Associated Press reports.
Surely many will agree with Russell, who wrote on his appeal that life imprisonment was “a cruel and unusual punishment and grossly disproportionate” because his offense was marijuana possession.
Not all judges agreed that Russell deserved to spend the rest of his days behind bars wearing marijuana.
“The purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish those who break the law, prevent them from making similar mistakes, and enable them to become productive members of society,” wrote Judge Latrice Westbrooks in a dissenting opinion .
“The fact that judges are not routinely given the opportunity to exercise discretion in convicting all habitual offenders is in complete contradiction to that goal.”
The judges who chose the punishment argued that Russell was convicted not of his marijuana offense alone, but of a number of crimes. In Mississippi, life imprisonment is an option if an individual has served at least a year in prison for two different offenses, including at least one that constitutes a violent offense.
Russell’s previous convictions included two break-ins in 2004 and unlawful possession of a firearm in 2015. Ten years after his conviction, Mississippi changed state law to make breaking into a home an automatic violent crime.
His cannabis arrest came in 2017 when he was caught with five bags of marijuana (two of the bags were later tested by a laboratory and confirmed as weed).
Leah Willingham, an Associated Press reporter hired through the Report for America nonprofit service program, shared on Russell’s failed calling, which was quickly reinforced by publications across the country.
But Russell is far from the only person sentenced to death in prison for the crime of owning or selling a substance that now makes millions of dollars to corporate executives.
Chicago’s Craig Cesal was sentenced to life imprisonment after servicing a truck filled with 1,500 pounds of marijuana in 2002 to wait for it. In June last year, he received a presidential pardon after being briefly allowed to drive home in the 2020 COVID pandemic that devastated the country’s imprisoned population.
“I stood there with the GPS on my ankle and knew that I could return to federal prison at any time to serve the rest of my sentence,” he told Leafly of his experiences while walking past a legal cannabis dispensary while in prison. “And I watch all these people go into the store carrying bags and so on. There was just one emotion that you couldn’t otherwise imagine. “
“You don’t know how much I wanted to reach out to these people or go to the store and say, ‘Why? Is Cannabis Really Legal? ‘”Cesal continued. “‘How do you explain me then?'”