| Posted on Mon, January, 13th 2014 by THCFinder
Even as pot shops rake in millions in Colorado, and the possibility grows of the drug becoming legal in as many as a dozen other states, a handful of Americans are serving life sentences for selling marijuana.
At least 25 people have been condemned to live out their days behind bars because they were involved in the marijuana trade, according to The Human Solution, a pot advocacy group. Some played relatively small roles in larger distribution rings and got life sentences in part because they refused to plead guilty and testify against associates. Others held positions of power in major trafficking organizations.
James Romans, a divorced 42-year-old father of three from Indiana, says he belongs in the former category. But last year, a federal judge ruled differently, sentencing him to life based on evidence suggesting that he helped run a multimillion dollar operation.
Whatever his role, the case raises questions about the fairness of punishing marijuana offenders with the criminal justice system’s harshest penalty short of death.
“It doesn’t seem to me in this day and age, when states are debating whether marijuana should be legal, that people who traffic in it should be spending their lives behind bars,” said David Zlotnick, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and an expert on drug sentencing laws at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island. “If we’re not sure whether this drug should even be an illegal narcotic, why are we sending people to jail for life for it?”
As Romans tells his story, he was working low-wage construction jobs in suburban Indianapolis in 2004, struggling to support his kids and “dibbling and dabbling” in pot dealing, when one of his childhood friends offered him a chance to join a big-time marijuana ring. Romans claims he worked as a middleman, relaying money from about 15 lower-level dealers to the friend, Eric Pieper, whom Romans now says was the boss.
“I knew there could always be consequences,” Romans said on the phone Tuesday night from McCreary federal prison in Kentucky. Still, he never imagined his role would lead to anything “major,” he said.
And it didn’t -- not at first. After police arrested him in a sting in 2010, a state court found him guilty of dealing 27 pounds of pot and ordered him to participate in a “work release” program in prison. During his year in the program, Romans was allowed to leave the prison each day to drive a delivery truck for a retail company that sold fur coats.
But with his release date only two weeks away, federal agents picked him up and flew him to a jail in Sherman, Texas, where he waited for a new trial to begin. Investigators said they had uncovered evidence that showed he had been dealing pot not by the pound, but by the ton. The feds had opened a new case, arguing he'd been a major player in a trafficking organization responsible for transporting more than 10,000 kilos of marijuana into the U.S. from Mexico