Can You Get Life In Prison for Weed?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: September 3, 2019

The cannabis laws in the United States have gone through some major changes in the last two decades. Depending on what state you live in, you can either grow and use cannabis both recreationally and medically without consequenceas long as you follow the state guidelinesor, you can find yourself behind bars for possession of a joint.

The state laws related to cannabis are all over the place, but the federal law is very clear. At the federal level, cannabis is a Schedule One drug (just like heroin) which means it has no medicinal value and is extremely addictive. This is a result of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 which was signed into law by President Nixon, but cannabis prohibition dates all the way back to the 1930s.

If you don’t know who Harry Anslinger is, please Google his name because he is the father of the War on Drugs, and his policies were rooted in racism. Yet, we still follow many of his ideas and practices to this day.

If you don’t know who John Ehrlichman is, he was President Nixon’s domestic policy chief who admitted publicly (decades later) that they made marijuana a Schedule One drug because they couldn’t make being black or anti-war illegal. So, ridiculous marijuana laws were made in order to target minorities because Nixon’s beliefs led him to the conclusion that minorities (and people against the Vietnam War) must use cannabis more than others.

I have to be honest. I’m extremely passionate about this topic because I was sentenced to a total of 30 years in prison15 years for possession and 15 years for manufacturingfor a first time, nonviolent, marijuana offense. I had never been in trouble with the law before in my life. The prosecutor chose to go after me because of my refusal to plead guilty, amongst other reasons. It did not turn out well.

Even though it seems like we are starting to make some significant progress with cannabis laws throughout the countryand there are even some rumblings at the federal level to remove cannabis from Schedule Onepeople are still getting locked up everyday for cannabis. So, today, I’m going to answer the question: can you get life in prison for weed?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Federal cannabis laws and mandatory sentencing
  • State cannabis laws and sentences
  • Inmates who are serving life sentences for weed

Federal cannabis laws and mandatory sentencing

Here is a list of the federal charges, sentences, and fines you can face for the possession, sale, or cultivation of marijuana. 

Charge                                              Category                            Sentence                Fine


Any amount (first offense)             misdemeanor                     1 year                        $1,000 

Any amount (second offense)         misdemeanor                    15 days*- 2 years  $2,500

Any amount (subsequent offense) misdemeanor or Felony 90 days*- 3 years  $5,000

*mandatory minimum


Less than 50 kg                                 felony                                   5 years                     $250,000

50-99 kg                                             felony                                  20 years                   $1,000,000

100-999 kg                                        felony                                  5-40 years                $500,000

1000kg or more                               felony                                   10 years to Life       $1,000,000

Sale to a minor or within 1,000 feet of a school carry a double penalty.


Less than 50 plants                        felony                                  5 years                      $250,000

50-99 plants                                    felony                                 20 years                     $1,000,000

100-999 plants                               felony                                 5-40 years                 $500,000

1,000 plants or more                    felony                                 10 years to Life       $1,000,000


Sale of paraphernalia                    felony                                 3 years                       n/a

In 2018, President Trump signed the Farm Bill, which allows farmers to grow hemp. It is essentially the cannabis plant with low levels of THCthe psychoactive part of the cannabis plant. 

State cannabis laws and sentences

As of August 2019, eleven states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington), the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam have legalized recreational use of cannabis, with all but Vermont and D.C. permitting its commercial sale.

In 1996, California became the first state to legalize the medical use of cannabis when voters approved Proposition 215. Currently, thirty-three states, four U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis. Fourteen other states have more restrictive laws limiting THC content, for the purpose of allowing access to products that are rich in cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of cannabis.

If you live in a medical state, you can obtain a medical card through the recommendation of a doctor, and then you are allowed to possess and/or grow a certain amount of cannabis. If you live in a recreational state and are over 21, you can legally possess a certain amount of cannabis. The amounts do vary based on the specific state law.

If you are in a legal state, you must make sure to follow the laws in place. There are a number of instances where dispensary owners or patients have been arrested because they have been accused of not following the state guidelines. 

If you live in a prohibition state, marijuana is still considered a controlled substance like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, and if you are caught possessing or selling any amount, you will be arrested and face criminal charges. 

I am happy to say that since my arrest and incarceration, voters in the state of Missouri passed a constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis. Now, I am legally allowed to do the exact thing I was arrested and spent four years in prison for.

Inmates who are serving life sentences for weed

Yes, you absolutely can get life in prison for weed.

Between 1996 and 2014, federal judges sentenced 54 people to life without parole for marijuana offenses, according to The Clemency Report, a project of former USA Today reporter Dennis Cauchon. The American Civil Liberties Union has found about a dozen more cases at the state level, and at least a dozen more are alleged by various advocacy groups. 

Do you think marijuana should be legal recreationally on the federal level, or is this a state issue? Let us know in the comments below.


Top Adviser to Richard Nixon Admitted that 'War on Drugs' was Policy Tool to Go After Anti-War Protesters and 'Black People'

Marijuana prohibition is racist and criminal, harms kids, and ruins lives | Johann Hari

Sentenced to 15 years in prison for Pot: My Story

The Controlled Substances Act: An Overview

Federal Laws & Penalties

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