The Colorado governor pardons a person sentenced to 96 years in jail for marijuana offenses
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A Colorado man jailed for over twenty years for drug offenses is on the verge of walking free – thanks to his son.
Two decades ago, Fred Harris was arrested for selling cocaine; he eventually received a 96-year prison term, partly for three convictions for marijuana possession on his file. But since the day he was jailed in 2000, Harris’ son Arzelle Lewis hasn’t given up hope that they would reunite outside of prison.
“I didn’t know about the process, and that’s so much to consider. My family and I never wanted to talk about it because it was really sad,” recalls Lewis.
But times change, and so does the criminal justice system. According to the lawyers who work on Harris’s behalf, if convicted under today’s laws, he would likely have received roughly eight years’ imprisonment, since these marijuana offenses, while still illegal, are typically not used, to increase penalties. as they were twenty years ago.
“I am not saying that I am innocent. I just want the verdict to reflect the charges. Two of the crimes are marijuana charges. Marijuana Is Legal In Colorado Now I see my past paralyzing society, my family and children, and myself as well. I paid a lot, my family members died and moved on, my children grew up without me, which affected them psychologically and emotionally. I have grandchildren who don’t know me, “Harris wrote in a letter to Governor Jared Polis.
The governor agreed to Harris’ request and granted him a pardon, officially commuting his sentence in December. Thanks to the years of work of his son and the help of a powerful member of the black cannabis community, Fred Harris is released from the Limon Correctional Facility today January 15th at 8:00 am.
Harris ‘case manager in jail last July thought he was at low risk of relapse, and Lewis says work awaits his father through Lewis’ print shop and a charitable foundation, SweetFeet, that provides shoes to disadvantaged children.
Lewis was a former professional overseas basketball player and now a California-based business owner. He hired a lawyer while trying to find ways to find mercy for his father. His attorney told him to contact Wanda James, one of the first black owners of a licensed marijuana dispensary (Simply Pure) in America and an advocate of black entrepreneurs and a political force in Colorado.
“She worked really hard for us to give us a fair chance,” said Lewis of James.
James was involved in creating a socially just marijuana business and record-breaking initiatives in Denver and the state, and led Polis’ first campaign for Congressional Call in 2006.
“We have only been selling cannabis legally for ten years, and the fact that this new industry has existed in America for so long is the whole basis of why the drug war failed,” says James. “What [Fred Harris] got arrested, that’s something a big pharmacy sells in a weekend. “
James credits Polis and his chief of staff, Lisa Kaufmann, for being receptive to Harris’s case. Now she asks only one thing of Lewis and Harris on their return from Limon to Denver. “If Arzelle takes his father to a different pharmacy from mine first, we will have problems,” she jokes.
But an eternally grateful son doesn’t seem to be joking with his cheerful answer: “We’ll be there.”
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Thomas Mitchell has been a cannabis-related writer for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate, and general news for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman, and Fox Sports. He is currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.