Meet the Man Serving a 90 Year Sentence for Weed

"He's not a threat to our society, nor has he ever been"

Graphic of Richard Delisi

Richard Delisi, 71, is the longest-serving nonviolent prisoner for cannabis offenses in the nation. He’s been incarcerated since 1988. He and his brother, Ted Delisi, were sentenced as a result of a reverse-sting operation to 90 years: 30 for trafficking cannabis, 30 for conspiracy to traffic and 30 more for racketeering. The state had recommended a 13-17-year sentence. Ted Delisi was released in 2014 after appealing the conspiracy conviction.  

Delisi is housed at the South Bay Correctional Facility, a private prison in South Florida that’s been overwhelmed by COVID19 cases. Thus far, 342 inmates have been infected, and four have died. Eighty-two correction officers at the facility have tested positive. Additionally, SCBF is operating dangerously close to max capacity, with a total of 1,948 inmates and room for only two more, according to recent statistics from the Florida DOC.

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Because of his good behavior and good time credit, his release date is set for August 26, 2022 – a date that Delisi and his supporters fear may never come, as the virus ravages the prison.  

Following a back operation and prostate surgery, he uses a walker to get around. He has arthritis, diabetes, neuropathy, high blood pressure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. His poor health and age make him particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.  

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Two thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana. In Florida, where Delisi is imprisoned, cannabis has been legal for medical purposes since 2016, and dispensaries were deemed essential during the pandemic. Delisi has no history of violence and poses no risk to the public. His sentence is more than unjust; it could cost him his life.

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Family members created a petition pleading for his release last year. It’s garnered the support of 6,000 people.

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 The Last Prisoner Project and the Cannabis Clemency Project have teamed up to spread awareness and advocate for Delisi. They’re working with Delisi’s legal team to petition Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to grant the nonviolent offender executive clemency. Having exhausted all other legal avenues, this may be Delisi’s only hope at what could potentially be life-saving freedom.

His lead attorney Chiara Juster told Wikileaf that if she had one word to describes Delisi, it would be “peaceful.”

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Juster has gotten to know Delisi personally through phone calls and conversations with his family and loved ones. 

“When he learned to read and write, he set up a program to do that for other people because they weren’t doing that in the prison,” Juster said. “He’s always trying to help and help other people. He has a reputation there of being a really great guy.”

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Family members, loved ones, lawyers and advocates are disseminating information about Delisi and the case, in the hopes that Gov. DeSantis will grant him clemency.

“He’s not a threat to our society, nor has he ever been,” Juster said.

How you can help Richard Delisi

Meet the Man Serving a 90 Year Sentence for Weed was last modified: by