In 1994, Michael Thompson sold Marijuana to an undercover informant in Michigan, and has been incarcerated since then. Once Michigan legalized Cannabis consumption, Thompson stayed in prison, fighting for release, as the thing that got him in prison is now many of Michiganders’ livelihoods.
“It has been 25 years. And he still has 35 years left to serve. Michael is 68 years old now. In other words, he was given a life sentence for selling weed. His mother, his father and his only son died while he was in prison. And recreational marijuana has been legalized in Michigan.”
The website FreeMichaelThompson.com tells his story, and has propelled people to follow his journey, seeing it as an injustice. Thompson is now having his sentence commuted by Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer. His earliest release date, according to Fox12, was still 18 years away in 2038 before Whitmer commuted it.
According to The Detroit Free Press back in February 2020, Kimberly Corral, Thompson’s attorney said “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.”
Thompson’s case has undoubtedly gotten national attention from celebrities and advocates, as well as organizations that are fighting for cannabis and criminal justice reform, such as Last Prisoner Project who “believe that anyone profiting from or freely engaging in the legal cannabis industry has a moral imperative to work towards restorative justice.” Their mission also states that “No one should remain incarcerated or continue to suffer the collateral consequences of prohibition and the War on Drugs which has and continues to disproportionately impact communities of color.”
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According to the Detroit Free Press back in November 2020, “His attorney, Kimberly Kendall Corral of Patituce & Associates in Cleveland, asked for his expedited release given his health complications. She said he has no history of violence and poses no threat to public safety.”
“Not only do we want you to consider the disparity and disproportionality of his sentence but his stellar record prior to incarceration and during incarceration. I think both of those factors evidence who he is as a person, that his criminal conduct is an outlier of his character rather than the defining factor of his character,” Corral said.
Though Thompson wasn’t the only offender to be pardoned, the commuting of these sentences are a big deal and a step in the right direction, and are gaining national attention. Commuting a sentence does not overturn the conviction, it only means the prison sentence will be cut short. It does not remove the conviction.
Whitmer, who approved the commuting of the sentences, is quoted by Fox12 saying “These commutations offer a second chance to four individuals who have accepted responsibility and paid their debts to society and whose sentences span decades for non-violent offenses,” Whitmer said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but today is a step in the right direction, and I’m confident that Michigan can continue to be a national leader in smart justice.”
Thompson, however, is not completely out of the woods just yet. According to MLive, “Thompson’s commutation makes him immediately eligible for parole consideration and subsequent release consistent with state law. However, it is not immediately clear when he will be officially released from Charles Egeler Reception And Guidance Center in Jackson.”
The decision to provide clemency has been applauded by many, including Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint. He is quoted by MLive saying that Whitmer’s decisions “tremendous news,” and said “It’s hard to stomach that a man who was booked on drug charges in the nineties could still be incarcerated in 2020, by a state that had since legalized the use of recreational marijuana… He is now an elderly man and has grandchildren he’d like to spend time with. I, along with thousands of people who were shocked by Mr. Thompson’s absurdly long sentence, have petitioned the governor’s office on his behalf and we applaud her for doing the right thing by granting him clemency.”
With one of Marijuana’s most popular convicted individuals gaining some justice for the cause, we may see other states follow suit in the near future. Whitmer has made waves in many different avenues of politics, and even garnering the support of President-elect Joe Biden, so we have to wonder if Whitmer’s decision will begin a trend of other releases, especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
With the MORE Act being passed, there’s a decent indication that many people would support a Federal Recreational approval, but many are still concerned that the Senate will shoot it down when the time comes. As more research comes out, as well as commuting these sentences become more common practice, hopefully the tide will turn. Michael Thompson, in my humble opinion, is just the beginning.
If you’d like to write your senator in support of the MORE act, please visit NORML.org.
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