A cancer patient from Montgomery, Illinois, has been sentenced to four years in prison in 2019, for ordering a 42-pound package of chocolate marijuana edibles to self-medicate. The day after he pleaded guilty, the state legalized recreational marijuana.
Now that the novel coronavirus is spreading into Illinois prisons, Governor J.B. Pritzker is working to release low-level, non-violent offenders – including minor weed offenders.
Since highschool, Thomas Franzen has fought against various forms of cancer. Like many other cancer patients, Franzen used cannabis as medicine to assist in his battle against the deadly disease.
Franzen began ordering THC-infused chocolate bars from a California medical marijuana dispensary. But the US Postal Service became suspicious of these regular shipments, and in February of 2014, decided to seize one of these packages.
Postal officials found 42 one-pound weed-infused chocolate bars in the package, and Chicago cops arrested Franzen for drug conspiracy and marijuana trafficking. When the case went to trial in June of 2019, Franzen pleaded guilty to a charge of possessing over 5,000 grams of marijuana, which is a class 1 felony. The guilty plea was issued only one day before Illinois voted to legalize cannabis for recreational use. The vote for legalization was accompanied by 11,017 pardons for marijuana convictions of 30 grams or less—a much smaller amount than the 5,000 grams Franzen was convicted for.
So, as thousands of minor pot offenders walked free, Franzen remained in prison. But now that the coronavirus pandemic has started making its way into Illinois prisons, Gov. Pritzker is planning to reduce prison populations by setting some minor non-violent offenders free. Stateville Correctional Center, where Franzen was being held, has already reported at least one case of COVID-19 infection.
Franzen’s lawyer petitioned the governor directly asking him to commute the sentence on the grounds that the prison was not equipped to properly treat his client’s stage three cancer. Governor Pritzker agreed to commute Franzen’s sentence and he was released, but still required to complete two years of parole. Had Pritzker not intervened, Franzen would not have been up for parole until June of 2021.
Governor Pritzker is planning to continue releasing minor, non-violent offenders from prison, subject to a thorough vetting process. Hopefully, these commutations will include other minor weed offenders who have been unjustly jailed for a crime that is no longer illegal in Illinois.
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