Serving Life In Prison For Selling Pot

By Kelly Burch 09/09/19

“I have been incarcerated for 4,252 days and counting for a non-violent marijuana conviction — something that is becoming legal in this country more and more every day.”

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Profile of male, black inmate reading a book.
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Ferrell Scott doesn’t know if he’ll ever sit with his 96-year-old mother again. He’s never been able to spend a leisurely afternoon with his three grandchildren. Scott, 56, has no control over his future, because he is serving a life sentence for selling marijuana. 

"You see a lot of states making (pot) legal," Scott told USA Today. "I don't think I did anything any different.”

Three-Strikes Law

Scott was charged under a three-strikes law after being arrested on marijuana charges in 2008. He wasn’t a small-time dealer: he was tracking marijuana by the truck load. He was charged with conspiracy to possess and intent to distribute more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana. 

Coupled with drug convictions from the 1980s, that charge led to serious time. However, it didn’t have to be that way. Scott was offered a plea deal that would have seen him do eight years in prison, but he declined it because he didn’t want to name others who were working for him. Instead, he opted to go to trial, and was sentenced to life. 

"You would think that selling marijuana is the worst thing in the world because I was given a life sentence for it,” he wrote. 

Even the prosecutor in Scott’s case felt that the verdict was unjust, and wrote a letter to support Scott’s clemency appeal. However, that appeal was denied in 2016. 

“I have been incarcerated for 4,252 days and counting for a non-violent marijuana conviction — something that is becoming legal in this country more and more every day,” Scott wrote in a letter published by USA Today

Unequal Justice

Black Americans, like Scott, are arrested for marijuana offenses much more often than whites, even though Black and white Americans use cannabis at about the same rates. Now, Scott is frustrated to see white entrepreneurs getting rich off marijuana sales, while he spends his entire life in prison for the same offense. 

“I'm not looking for sympathy. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me,” Scott writes. “At the end of the day I just ask for empathy — the ability to understand other peoples' situations and deal with the difference.”

Sam Adetunji is one of few Black entrepreneurs moving into the legal cannabis space. He said that the impact of the war on drugs and unequal enforcement of marijuana laws keeps other people of color from getting involved in what’s now a profitable sector. It also keeps people like Scott behind bars for activities that are now legal. 

"There’s a lot of fear with getting into the industry for minorities because there are so many people who look like us getting thrown into jail," Adetunji said. "People had to do what they had to do to make ends meet and feed their families. Now that the laws have been changed, there hasn’t been as a big of a movement to get those people out of jail."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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