Cannabis activists have launched a new campaign to help a Louisiana man who was sentenced to life in jail without parole for selling $20 of weed regain his freedom.
In March 2013, Kevin Allen was arrested for selling two dime bags of pot to Justin Shealey, a childhood friend. But unbeknownst to Allen, Shealey was working as a criminal informant for the local police department, who were paying him to buy weed from small-time dealers. Local District Attorney Schuyler Marvin offered Allen a 5-year prison sentence if he pleaded guilty to the crime, but Allen believed that he could beat the rap.
“I was being dumb. I wasn’t thinking,” Allen told ABC affiliate KTBS3. “I felt like [Shealey] wasn’t going to testify on me because he was my best friend. I wasn’t thinking he was going to use me up like that.”
Shealey did testify against his former friend, though, and Allen was found guilty in 2014 and sentenced to ten years of hard labor for each $10 bag of weed that he sold. But twenty years behind bars apparently wasn't enough to satiate the state. Prosecutors filed for an enhancement of punishment under the state's habitual offender law, which gives the courts unlimited leeway to increase sentences for repeat offenders.
Allen had previously been busted for selling weed three times before his current conviction, which made him an ideal target for this extreme law. Judge Michael Craig sentenced Allen to life in prison with no chance of parole, calling him “a classic reason that the multiple offender statute was enacted,” KTBS3 reports. The 39-year-old convict now works in the prison kitchen, getting paid pennies a day to make juice for private corporations.
A new state law may give Allen a shot at freedom, though. Under this new law, “the district attorney and the petitioner may, with the approval of the district court, jointly enter into any post conviction plea agreement for the purpose of amending the petitioner's conviction, sentence, or habitual offender status.” This would potentially allow Allen a second chance to plead guilty to his crime in exchange for a reduced sentence.
The Last Prisoner Project, an advocacy group working to help free non-violent cannabis offenders serving excessive prison sentences, has launched a new campaign to help Allen get a deal under this new law. The organization is encouraging people to call and email DA Marvin and urge him to accept a new post-conviction plea agreement. The group's new #FreeKevinAllen campaign also asks people to share his story on social media to publicly pressure the DA to follow through with the deal.
Louisiana decriminalized minor pot possession last year, but lawmakers have shut down efforts to enact statewide adult-use legalization. As long as cannabis remains prohibited, the state can keep handing out life sentences to repeat cannabis offenders. In addition to Allen, there are around 300 other Louisianans who are currently doing life for habitual offenses. And like most cannabis-related laws, these charges are disproportionately targeted at people of color - 83 percent of those sentenced to life under the state's habitual offender law are Black.