‘Longest-Serving Cannabis Offender’ To Be Released Early From 90-Year Prison Sentence

by : Cameron Frew on : 21 Nov 2020 17:10
Richard DeLisi ThumbRichard DeLisi ThumbLast Prisoner Project

Richard DeLisi is 31 years into a 90-year prison sentence for trafficking cannabis. Next month, he’s set to be released.

DeLisi has been behind bars in Florida’s South Bay Correctional Facility (SBCF) since 1989, convicted by a Polk County Judge for trafficking cannabis, conspiracy to traffic cannabis and violating the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act. The sentence, far longer than earlier recommendations, came during George W.H. Bush’s war on drugs, ‘making an example’ out of the pensioner.


Both him and his brother Ted were sent to prison after being caught with more than 100 pounds of cannabis travelling from Jamaica, with Ted being released in 2013 after a successful appeal. Now, amid rising relaxation around the drug and poor conditions to cope with the current pandemic, the 71-year-old will be released before the end of the year.

Richard DeLisiRichard DeLisiLast Prisoner Project

Since March, 421 inmates at SBCF have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as six deaths. Of the staff members, 87 have contracted the virus, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

DeLisi has been described as the ‘longest-serving cannabis offender’ in the US by the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit outfit ‘committed to freeing every last prisoner of the unjust war on drugs, starting with 40,000 people in prison for cannabis offenses legal in most states’.


The organisation has been working pro bono to help secure DeLisi’s release from prison. Now, with the work of attorneys Chiara Juster, Elizabeth Buchanan and Michael Minardi, they’ve confirmed he’ll be free in December.

DeLisi told his legal team: 


It feels amazingly wonderful to know that I will be home with my family and loved ones very soon. I am grateful to everyone who has been there and helped me along in these long years. If I could go back to 1988 I would tell my former self to put more value in the time I spend with my family.

I have learned that money is something that comes and goes but family is forever. I will take that lesson home with me and I will make the most of every moment I have left on this Earth with my wonderful family.

Juster told NBC News, ‘Across the nation, cannabis won wherever she was on the ballot this year. That reflects the broader acknowledgment that the war on drugs has been the war on people. We have a moral obligation to decarcerate these prisoners.’

Just recently, Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Mississippi made key steps in legalising recreational marijuana in some form. Yet, as close as 2018, 663,000 cannabis-related arrests were made across the country.

Richard DeLisi 2Richard DeLisi 2Last Prisoner Project

DeLisi’s son Rick, aged 11 at the time of his dad’s sentence, said, ‘It has been a lifetime of heartache and loss… I need to receive him. I need my one-year-old to know her grandpa.’

DeLisi added, ‘I am so excited to hug my children and grandchildren. I have missed so many important moments with them and I can’t wait to get out there and create precious memories with everyone. I am so thrilled that this dark chapter of my life is finally over’.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: News, Cannabis, prison, US


NBC News and 2 others
  1. NBC News

    'Longest-serving cannabis offender' to be released early from 90-year prison sentence

  2. Last Prisoner Project

    America’s Longest Serving Nonviolent Cannabis Prisoner Richard DeLisi to be Released After 32 Years Behind Bars

  3. Florida Department of Corrections

    COVID-19 Information