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Missouri man spends life in jail for contentious drug case

He's the only man in America serving a life sentence for weed.

The convict, age 60, is incarcerated at Missouri's Jefferson City Correctional Center, where he serves as a shop foreman in the woodworking shop. A mild-mannered man who once smoked marijuana as a way to relieve stress from his job, the man has been put away for life in one of the most controversial drug cases on the books.

Officers say the man had been nabbed for moderate marijuana possession charges before; he was able to plead guilty and avoid serious prison time. When the man got involved with a larger drug transaction, however, he reached his infamous "third strike" drug crime with the Missouri court system. The man had simply been accompanying a major drug kingpin to the sale of about 100 pounds of marijuana, doing a favor for a friend. That's when things went horribly awry for the small-time pot smoker.

Prosecutors painted the man as a critical distributor who would have been bringing hundreds of pounds of marijuana into the community every month. The jury agreed. Under archaic sentencing laws, the man was eligible for a life sentence without parole; the notoriously tough judge enforced this maximum. The man says that neither he nor his attorney understood the fact that his life sentence was not eligible for parole; they thought he would, at most, serve a couple decades behind bars.

The case has become a symbol of the antiquated drug laws that remain from the "tough on crime" philosophy that reigned supreme during the 1970s and 80s. Since then, government officials have come to realize the economic and social benefits of rehabilitation and even the legalization of small quantities of marijuana. For this man, though, there will be no relief; his only option is to seek clemency from the governor after spending 20 years in prison for drug possession.

This man simply got caught up in a bad situation, and he did not deserve a life sentence for possessing marijuana. Every drug defendant deserves a fair trial; in this case, the judge threw the book at the defendant, setting a dangerous legal precedent that wrecked a family.

Source: www.riverfronttimes.com, "How a Missouri man could die in prison for weed" Ray Downs, Dec. 05, 2013

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