News Americas, FORT LAUDERDALE, FL, Weds. Nov. 25, 2020: A 71-year-old man is hoping to spend Christmas this year with his family after serving more than three decades in prison for for conspiring to traffic more than 100 pounds of cannabis into the U.S. from Jamaica.
Richard DeLisi, who was sentenced in 1989 to 90 years in prison for non-violent cannabis offenses, could be released as early as Dec. 4th 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 non-profit 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.
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. and Florida, where DeLisi was convicted and sentenced, is one of 34 states with a medical cannabis program.