Michael Thompson was sentenced to over four decades in prison for selling three pounds of weed to an undercover cop in 1994. Nonviolent cannabis sales do not usually carry such extreme sentences, but at the height of the War on Drugs, judges were using every excuse in the book to lock minor pot offenders away for life.
Because Thompson was a repeat offender, the judge was able to sentence him to 10 to 15 extra years in jail for each of his former weed offenses - even though he had already served time for those crimes. The total sentence now amounted to 42 to 60 years in prison, which would make the man eligible for parole in 2038, at the age of 87.
In 2018, Michigan voted to legalize adult-use weed, but this new law did not include provisions to help former cannabis offenders clear their records. In the first two weeks of sales, legal weed businesses made over $3 million in sales – while Thompson and other former weed sellers remained locked behind bars.
The Last Prisoner Project, an advocacy group working to find justice for cannabis offenders serving extreme sentences, launched a campaign to convince Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to grant Thompson clemency, but for years, this campaign fell on deaf ears.
Last summer, Thompson's situation got even more dire, when he contracted COVID-19 in prison. The 69-year-old recovered from the illness, but after his recovery, he was sent right back to jail. Last October, Michigan passed a law that would automatically expunge the records of anyone convicted for misdemeanor cannabis crimes, but Thompson's more extreme sentence did not qualify for expungement under this law.
Just when it seemed like things couldn't get any worse, Thompson's life finally took a turn for the better. Late last year, State Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote a letter to Governor Whitner recommending that she put an end to this “unduly harsh” sentence. “The sentence imposed on Mr. Thompson is the product of a different time in Michigan legal history,” Nessel wrote. “And it is a time that has passed.”
In December, Whitmer granted clemency to Thompson and three other nonviolent offenders. Last week, Thompson finally walked free from jail for the first time since the 1990s. The former inmate is now able to put prison behind him, but his troubles do not end there. Whitmer commuted Thompson's sentence, but did not pardon him, which means that his offense remains on his criminal record. This record makes Thompson ineligible for public housing, and will also make it difficult for him to find employment.
But thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, Thompson will have a home to call his own. Over 8,000 kind souls donated over $260,000 to a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a new house.
“I am well aware many of you are going through hardships of your own, so please know how extremely grateful I am to every one of you for helping me at this time of transition,” Thompson said in a statement, Inquisitr reports. “My heart is full of gratitude for those who have offered their assistance. May God bless you as you have blessed me.”