Growing Acceptance Of Marijuana No Help To Pot Convicts Serving Life In The Joint

PENNSYLVANIA:  John Richard Knock realizes he’ll likely die in a 12-by-10-foot cell in federal prison.

Locked behind bars on a marijuana trafficking conviction, America’s growing acceptance of the drug is cold comfort to the 66-year-old who was handed two life sentences, plus 20 years — for a first-time conviction.

“I don’t think about it, I just try and stay healthy,” Knock told of his sentence via phone from the Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex in Pennsylvania. “I just wish society would look at this and say, ‘Hey is this fair?’”

The sentence makes Knock one of 3,278 prisoners recently identified by the American Civil Liberties Union who are serving life without parole for nonviolent drug and property crimes. Nearly four in every five were convicted of crimes involving drugs, including marijuana.

While Knock, who prosecutors said was part of an international marijuana trafficking scheme, has been serving his time, the drug has become increasingly accepted. Recreational use of marijuana is now legal in Colorado and Washington, and 15 other states have also eased restrictions, most for medical purposes. In October, for the first time, a Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans now favor legalizing the drug after reaching 50 percent in 2011.

Knock said he’s aware of how seismic the shift has been regarding marijuana and public opinion surrounding the drug since he was locked up.

“They seem to be saying that what takes place in somebody’s home is their business, not the government’s business,” Knock said. “Society is changing … and people in government have made choices to try and correct society’s ills by attacking something they don’t understand. And they’re attacking it extremely hard.”

But Knock and most others serving life for pot convictions were typically traffickers and not simply users, some experts note. Profiting from drugs — even marijuana — is a far cry from puffing on a joint, they say.

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