America’s longest serving nonviolent cannabis prisoner to be released “early” after 31 years in jail

Septuagenarian Richard De Lisi was sentenced in 1989 to 90 years in a Florida correctional facility for marijuana trafficking.

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Richard DeLisi at the start of his sentence (left) and now, 31 years later
Richard DeLisi at the start of his sentence (left) and now, 31 years later
(Florida Department of Correction/Last Prisoner Project)

A man described as America’s longest serving inmate for nonviolent marijuana crimes will be released from a Florida prison “early” after spending 31 years behind bars.

Richard DeLisi, 71, who was sentenced to 90 years by a Polk County judge in 1989 for marijuana trafficking, will walk free from the Sunshine State’s South Bay Correctional Facility in December, according to the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit which campaigns for criminal justice reform in relation to cannabis-related offences.

DeLisi’s early release comes after the Last Prisoner Project and pro-bono attorneys supplemented his previously filed clemency application earlier this year and relentlessly advocated on his behalf to local Florida officials and key stakeholders in the state, the organization said.

“It feels amazingly wonderful to know that I will be home with my family and loved ones very soon. I am grateful to everyone who has been there and helped me along in these long years,” DeLisi said in a statement to his legal team upon hearing the news.

“If I could go back to 1988 I would tell my former self to put more value in the time I spend with my family. I have learned that money is something that comes and goes but family is forever,” he said.

DeLisi continued: “I will take that lesson home with me and I will make the most of every moment I have left on this earth with my wonderful family. I am so excited to hug my children and grandchildren. I have missed so many important moments with them and I can’t wait to get out there and create precious memories with everyone. I am so thrilled that this dark chapter of my life is finally over.”

DeLisi’s son, wife and both parents passed away during his more than three-decade stretch in prison, according to the Last Project. His remaining friends and family, including his two children and five grandchildren, are reportedly “eager” to celebrate his freedom.

“I just want to hug my dad outside of prison,” said DeLisi’s daughter Ashley, who last spent a birthday with her father when she was three years old.

In 1988, DeLisi and his older brother Ted were arrested and charged with trafficking cannabis, conspiracy to traffic cannabis and racketeering after smuggling marijuana from Colombia to South Florida.

Both were convicted in 1989 and each sentenced to three consecutive 30-year sentences.

Ted DeLisi successfully appealed his conviction and was released from prison in 2013, but Richard DeLisi’s appeal was rejected, according to USA Today.

The DeLisi brothers, sons of a Brooklyn mechanic, grossed $50 million from their cannabis operation, The Palm Beach Post reported.

“There were so many times when they tried to get us to bring the other stuff, the coke and the heroin,” Richard DeLisi told Florida newspaper in 2018. “We would never do it because we knew it could kill people. I feel good about that still today.”

The Florida Department of Corrections will issue Richard and his legal team with an official release date on Nov. 16, according to the Last Prisoner Project.

On Thursday, the Florida Department of Corrections website showed his current release date as May 13, 2021.

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