Court uphold's man's life sentence for possessing 30 grams of cannabis
For context, recreational cannabis is now legal in 16 states in the US and a further 20 for medicinal
A man in Mississippi, Alabama, is set to see out a sentence of life in prison after being found with 30 grams of cannabis back in 2019. The state's Court of Appeals gave the harsh ruling on account of his multiple offences.
38-year-old Allen Russell was picked up two years ago in Forrest County on possession charges when he was found with a little over an ounce of weed in his pockets. While the drug remains illegal in the state, a life sentence sounds unbelievable, especially considering the standard punishment is either a $3,000 fine, up to three years in prison, or both depending on the circumstances.
Nevertheless, the court's ruling has been upheld due to Russell having been charged with a number of other felonies, namely two home robberies in 2004 and the unlawful possession of a firearm in 2015, which saw him serve eight and half years followed by a further two, respectively.
Russell is an African-American man and, as such, the debate around discrimination in respects to drug use serves as a backdrop to the case. According to American Civil Liberties Union, Black people are more than three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana infractions as white people.
Understandably, he described the judgement as a “cruel and unusual punishment" as well as being "grossly disproportionate”. However, the sentence is more symptomatic of the state legislature, as local laws dictate that a defendant can be sentenced to life without parole if they are convicted to at least one year in prison for two separate felonies.
Several judges made the points that they should be able to determine sentencing and appeals based on individual cases and that exceptions should be able to made in instances of repeat offenders like this.
Judge Latrice Westbrooks had this to say in her statement:
“The purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish those who break the law, deter them from making similar mistakes, and give them the opportunity to become productive members of society [...] The fact that judges are not routinely given the ability to exercise discretion in sentencing all habitual offenders is completely at odds with this goal.”
It is worth noting that back just over a month ago, New York became the 15th region in the US to legalise recreational marijuana and was soon followed by New Mexico, meaning that approximately 43% of the population now live in a weed-smoking state.
Attitudes towards the drug continue to change all over America and, indeed the rest of the world too; even Sadiq Khan is set to review London's cannabis laws, with the perception of weed still very much stigmatised in the UK.