Richard DeLisi, 71, suffers in a Florida prison while others make millions on marijuana

Richard DeLisi, 71, suffers in a Florida prison while others make millions on marijuana

July 26, 2020


“I haven’t seen him in 25 years,” Ted DeLisi said about his brother Richard. “It’s really a sad thing. He is my brother. I love him. And I can’t do anything to get him out.”

Richard DeLisi, 71, is currently serving 98 years in prison for smuggling cannabis into Florida in the 1980s. He was convicted in 1989 as part of a law enforcement reverse-sting/entrapment operation.

DeLisi now uses a walker to get around Florida’s South Bay Correctional Facility. His health problems include arthritis, diabetes, neuropathy, high blood pressure, back issues, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

DeLisi is expected to be released in 2022, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. But due to his advanced age and the wildfire nature of COVID-19 in our nation’s prisons, DeLisi might not survive to see that release date. As of late July, more than 5,000 prison inmates in Florida had tested positive for the coronavirus—although that number is widely assumed to be an underestimate, due to the scarce availability of tests. 37 inmates have died of COVID-19 so far this year.

DeLisi’s friends, family, and advocates don’t want to see him become a statistic. “He is an elder in poor health and he is in a prison that is experiencing a COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chiara Juster, one of the attorneys fighting to get DeLisi released.


Richard DeLisi in the 1980s, left, and in a more recent photo, right. (Photos courtesy Last Prisoner Project)

At least 70 Americans are serving life sentences for marijuana convictions

Richard DeLisi is one of many non-violent prisoners incarcerated on long sentences for cannabis. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, one in five people currently incarcerated in the United States are in prison for a drug offense.

As of 2018, more than 70 people were serving life sentences for marijuana convictions that did not include violence. Those imprisoned include elderly inmates like Richard who suffer from medical conditions that require medical attention.

Florida voters legalized medical marijuana in a statewide constitutional amendment in 2016. In 2020, state-licensed dispensaries are expected to sell more than $800 million in cannabis products to hundreds of thousands of patients.

Meanwhile, Richard DeLisi remains behind bars for attempting to transport cannabis to Florida more than 30 years ago....

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