How much is enough?

In the fifth decade of the latest war on drug users and merchants, draconian sentences that once sounded good now seem foolish and cruel cruel.

Taxpayers are spending enormous sums to keep thousands of harmless old men behind bars for long-forgotten drug deals.

The Clemency Report ranks retired pot smuggler Richard DeLisi, 65, as Florida’s top prisoner deserving a sentence commutation.

DeLisi, whose family ran a successful marijuana importation and auto body repair business in the 1980s, was sentenced to three consecutive 30-year terms, or 90 years, for an offense that had a guideline range of 12 to 17 years. No violence was involved.

Today, instead of the grandkids hearing colorful tales of grandpa’s days as a bootlegger during marijuana prohibition, the stories to be told are about Florida’s fiscally reckless and repetitiously harmful  arrest-and-imprison response to marijuana cases.

We don’t execute people for speeding. Nor do we give three-second sentences for murder. Proportion matters. Ninety years for marijuana? Too much. (For even worse, see

Richard has applied twice for clemency. No luck.

After 26 years behind bars for marijuana — and another 12 to go before possible parole at age 77 — we asked Richard what he’d do if released early.

“First, I’d more than likely cry,” he said.

We also wondered what he’s lost from the pointless years of his imprisonment? He said:

“In the 26 years I’ve been incarcerated I’ve lost the following loved ones:

  • The first to join our loved ones in heaven was my wife. She was 45 years old.
  • Three months later, my son died. He was 23.
  • My father is 92 years old and in an assisted living facility.
  • My daughter Ashley was about to turn three when I got arrested (in 1988).

All the things a father is supposed to share with his daughter, I’ve lost. First day of school, scraped knees, boyfriend heartbreaks, graduation, etc.

She doesn’t seem to care about any of that though, so loving and forgiving she is towards me.”

Ashley has even started a petition to support her father’s release.

Sometimes people think drug offenders doing insanely long sentences have only themselves to blame. That’s a lazy way to think about it.

People who support drug prohibition don’t like to discuss their moral responsibility, the concept that moral limits exist on what they may do to drug offenders. In Richard’s case, prohibitionists have gone far beyond what they may morally do to others.

However well-meaning drug war supporters may imagine themselves, when the prison clock keeps running, decade after decade, into the Medicare years, the finger of moral culpability is no longer pointing in its original direction.

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