Life Imprisonment for Selling Marijuana Still a Reality

By Paul Gaita 01/14/14

Despite the Supreme Court ruling that judges don't have to abide by harsh sentencing guidelines, felons are still spending the rest of their lives in jail for selling pot.

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As marijuana advocates celebrate the recent and impending loosening of laws regarding the distribution of medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado and New York, the Huffington Post reports that at least 25 people across America have received life sentences for selling marijuana.

The article cites the case of Indiana native James Romans, who as of April 2013 will spend the rest of his life behind bars for his alleged role in a trafficking organization that brought more than 10,000 pounds of marijuana into the United States from Mexico. According to sentencing guidelines established in 1987 - the height of the United States’ “war on drugs” campaign – sales of marijuana that exceed that amount qualify as a serious high-level offense. Romans was initially arrested in 2010 for dealing 27 pounds of pot, which required him to participate in a work release program that allowed him to leave prison each day to drive a delivery truck. After completing all but two weeks of his sentence, Romans was arrested by federal agents, who accused him of dealing pot by the ton. Though the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that judges did not have to comply by the harsh 1987 guidelines, Judge Marcia Crone refused to grant leniency on Romans and imparted a life sentence.

Romans’ case is just one of dozens of cases in which exceptionally harsh sentences, including life imprisonment, have been handed down to defendants for marijuana-related issues. Utah-based musician Weldon Angelos received a 55-year-prison term for selling $350 worth of marijuana to an undercover agent, while Mark Young received the same sentence for merely introducing potential dealers to buyers. Judge Paul G. Cassell, who presided over the Angelos case and decried the mandatory sentence given to the defendant, noted that individuals convicted of hijacking an airplane receive only 25 years, while those convicted of sexual assault upon an underage child get a minimum sentence of 11 years.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.