Cannabis convict freed from prison after 12 years. Don’t stop there, Gov. Parson

Robert Franklin was sentenced to 22 years in state prison for possessing 1 pound of marijuana with the intent to distribute. But he’s free after serving 12 years because Missouri Gov. Mike Parson commuted the Columbia man’s sentence in May.

Based on Parson’s recommendation, the Board of Probation and Parole office agreed Franklin should be set free, and he was released last week.

Franklin spent his first day out of prison surrounded by family and supporters. He held tight his 15-year-old daughter, ate at a local Steak ‘n Shake and could hardly sit still. He’ll light fireworks with his family on Monday, and enjoy his freedom.

“I’m feeling blessed,” Franklin said. “It’s great to be home.”

Franklin plans to advocate for others in similar situations.

But why was he sentenced to decades behind bars for a drug offense anyway? He was convicted after he tossed a package of the drug from a vehicle during a short pursuit in Saline County more than 14 years ago.

Times — and laws governing possession of pot — have since changed. The prior and persistent offender statute used to convict Franklin is no longer on the books. That law came with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison without the possibility of parole for multiple felony drug convictions. But the repeal of the law wasn’t retroactive, meaning others convicted under the previous statute will stay locked up unless Parson acts.

He should consider a mass release initiative similar to one done in Oklahoma after the state reduced penalties for low-level drug possession and theft.

More than 500 men and women in Oklahoma had their felony sentences for drug possession and theft shortened in 2019, the biggest single-day mass release of prisoners in U.S. history, criminal justice reform advocates said. Oklahoma had the country’s second-highest incarceration rate per capita when the state’s parole board approved the move. Social services groups offered those former inmates job leads, housing options and other assistance.

In 2018, Missouri became the 33rd state in the nation to approve medical marijuana.

So why are there countless numbers of low-level drug offenders still languishing in Missouri prisons? America’s war on drugs entrapped many. Black men such as Franklin and other minorities were disproportionately locked up as a result. Now millions of dollars are being spent in the state to produce, distribute, market and sell cannabis.

No one should be in prison for possession of a drug that is now legal.

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