“No one is in jail for simple possession or for just smoking pot.”
I’ve heard variations on this theme from prohibitionists for sixteen years now. They say we’re grossly misstating what are actually cases where marijuana possession was involved, but the suspect had pleaded down from a more serious charge, maybe sales or some violent crime.
But facts are facts. Anybody who gets the cuffs slapped on them and hauled off to booking “is in jail for simple possession or for just smoking pot.” That might only be a few hours if they are privileged enough to be able to make bail. It might be a few weeks if they are not so privileged and must wait in jail for their trial.
When they say “jail,” they mean “we have refuted this lie multiple times with actual prison data.” They mean that nobody is serving hard time in a prison only for marijuana possession.
Tell that to 38-year-old Allen Russell of Mississippi. He’s serving life in prison for about a quarter pound of marijuana.
The prohibitionists will take exception to my take on Mr. Russell’s case. Yes, he was caught with a few ounces of weed, but he was convicted under Mississippi’s habitual offender (“three strikes”) law, so it wasn’t just “simple marijuana possession.”
I say it is a distinction without a difference.
Mr. Russell was convicted in 2004 of two home burglaries, which were actually burglaries of the same house a couple days apart. He received two concurrent fifteen-year sentences, of which he served eight-and-a-half years before being released.
In 2015, Mr. Russell was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to ten years and served two.
Then in 2017, Mr. Russell was caught with the marijuana. Normally, the amount he was caught with would trigger at most a three-year incarceration and a $3,000 fine.
But under Mississippi’s habitual offender law, if a person has served at least one year in prison on two separate felonies, one of which was a violent felony, the person can be sentenced to life without parole, which is what the court did to Mr. Russell.
To add insult to injury, if Mr. Russell had been caught with the marijuana in 2013, the habitual offender law would not have applied to him. When he committed his burglaries in 2004, that crime was not defined as a violent crime unless actual violence had been perpetrated in the burglary. In 2014, Mississippi changed the law so that any burglary is considered violent per se.
The only act Mr. Russell committed in 2017 was non-violent marijuana possession and the crimes he committed in 2004 and 2015 were non-violent—in law and in deed—at the time.
So, yes, Mr. Russell is serving life in prison without parole for simply possessing marijuana, because if marijuana were legal in Mississippi, nothing about his criminal history would have made any difference in his possession of marijuana.