For more than a year, cannabis has been legal in the state of Michigan and businesses across the state are making millions in the legal industry. However, tens of thousands of people are still incarcerated under charges relating to cannabis, despite its recent change in legal status.
Michael Thompson is one of those people. The 68-year-old is currently fighting for a shot to be released after spending the past 25 years in jail. Thompson was sentenced to 60 years in prison for cannabis distribution in 1996—a sentence that would effectively keep him in jail for the rest of his life with no chance for parole until he is in his late 80s.
Two years ago, Thompson was denied clemency by former Gov. Rick Snyder, but he hopes his chances will be better now that cannabis is legal and now that there is a growing support movement on the outside.
Thompson’s sentence was so extreme because he had guns in his house, but the guns were locked in a closet and reportedly were legal antiques. He was raided by police after selling three pounds of cannabis to an undercover officer.
“They stacked the gun charges on top of the marijuana charge as if they were used in the sale of weed and in fact it wasn’t,” said Kimberly Corral, Thompson’s attorney.
“I can’t die in here. For what? Some marijuana and some guns in a locked closet?” Thompson said in a phone interview from Muskegon Correctional Facility with WNEM in Flint.
“I’ve lost a lot. I’ve lost my only son. He was my best friend. And I loved him. My favorite nephew. I lost my mother and my father. All these losses for what? I’m in here and I didn’t kill anyone,” Thompson said.
Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said that he is willing to work with Thompson’s attorneys to get his sentence reduced.
“Forty to 60 years is a harsh sentence even in a second-degree murder case,“ Leyton said.
Technically, even though recreational cannabis is legal in the state, it is also highly regulated so selling three pounds to an undercover cop will still get you arrested. But Leyton maintains that the punishment still doesn’t fit the crime.
“I suspect it would be more in the single digits. I don’t think it would even be a 10-year-felony,” Leyton said.
Thompson and his attorneys are also hoping to get the attention of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for the possibility of clemency. Thompson’s supporters are currently organizing petitions and letters to be sent to the governor from the website freemichaelthompson.com. Over 21,000 letters and petition signatures demanding Thompson’s release have been collected through the website.