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Man released after 20 years in prison on marijuana charge

Texas residents may have heard that a Missouri man who was sentenced to life in prison for being in possession of marijuana was freed on Sept. 1 after spending two decades in prison. The man, age 62, was released after his relatives, lawmakers and other advocates spent years arguing that the sentence was too severe for the crime.

The man was sentenced to prison in 1996 after he was convicted for conspiring to sell 6 pounds of marijuana. Because he already had previous convictions related to drug offenses, he was sentenced to life with no parole, a legal sentence in Missouri at the time. When his sentence was commuted in May, he was the only person serving this particular sentence for a nonviolent marijuana-related crime.

As society's view towards marijuana has continued to soften, the punishments for possession are changing. Twenty three states have legalized medical marijuana while four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use.

While some states are beginning to legally change how marijuana is viewed, the state of Texas still severely punishes those who are convicted on marijuana-related offenses. A person who is convicted of being in possession of even tiny amounts can face up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine. Depending on the situation, an attorney may potentially provide a strong drug charge defense. If the drugs were seized during a traffic stop or investigation, the attorney may argue that the defendant's belongings were illegally searched as the authorities did not have probable cause or consent. Otherwise, a plea deal could reduce the severity of the charges if the evidence against the defendant is strong.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, "Man sentenced to life without parole for marijuana charge is freed in Missouri after 20 years", Summer Ballentine, Associated Press, Sept. 1, 2015

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