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Mississippi Court Upholds Life-Sentence Cannabis Arrest

The Mississippi Court of Appeals upheld Allen Russell’s life-without-parole sentence for nonviolent marijuana possession.

In 2017, police in Hattiesburg shattered Mr. Russell’s apartment windows, detonated a flash bang grenade at his front door, and then used a chemical agent to force him out.

Police confiscated a pair of Mr. Russell’s pants during a search of his property and detention. The jeans contained 43,710 grams of cannabis.

In Mississippi, Mr. Russell was found guilty of having between 30 and 250 grams of marijuana, which is punishable by a $3,000 fine, three years in prison, or both.

Under Mississippi’s habitual offender law, prosecutors argued that Mr. Russell should die in prison.

Allen Russell has three previous convictions for nonviolent offenses. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to two burglaries that occurred two days apart at the same location. A nonviolent first-offender program and probation were imposed upon him. He was sentenced to more than eight years in prison for failing to complete the court-ordered restitution program. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to handgun possession. As no act of violence was undertaken, the state did not consider any of these prior convictions to be violent felonies.

Prior to 2014, Mississippi State law required proof of actual violence during a burglary in order to classify it as a violent crime.  In 2014, Mississippi lawmakers classified all types of residential trespassing as acts of violence.

This modification to the law rendered Mr. Russell a violent repeat offender. Allen Russell will spend the rest of his life in jail for possessing less than two ounces of cannabis. Numerous states have made this amount legal and consider it to be a personal amount.

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