Statement on Gov. Whitmer commuting sentence of Michigan cannabis prisoners

Michigan – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced today the commutation of four individuals sentenced to decades in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.  One of those individuals, Michael Thompson, was the focus of the Michigan Prisoner Release Campaign, spearheaded by Redemption Cannabis, The Last Prisoner Project and the Cannabis Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party.

Ryan Basore is the CEO of Redemption Cannabis and The Redemption Foundation and helped lead the fundraising effort for the Michigan Prisoner Release Campaign. He issued the following statement after learning of Mr. Thompson’s commutation:

“More than three dozen cannabis companies joined together to push for Michael Thompson’s release, and it’s heartwarming that this news will arrive to him just in time for the holidays. Mr. Thompson was effectively sentenced to life in prison for selling what is now a legal product, so we are glad that Gov. Whitmer has listened to reason and will allow him return to his family after decades of unjust imprisonment.”  

Michael Thompson sold three pounds of cannabis in 1994 to an informant in the Flint Area Narcotics Group. While no guns were used during the sale for which he was arrested, officers later found guns in his home and in a locked safe. Michael, who had previously committed drug-related felonies, was convicted of five counts for the offense. He was sentenced to 10-15 years for the marijuana counts and 42-60 years for the firearm possession counts, culminating in a draconian sentence that gives him the first opportunity for release at the age of 87. Michael has also contracted COVID-19 within the Michigan prison system and is particularly at risk due to his age and Type 2 diabetes.

His story has earned national attention and gained celebrity champions such as Montel Williams, who was also caught in the traps of cannabis prohibition by Michigan law enforcement.

“Michigan’s failure to address restorative justice as part of cannabis legalization shocks the conscience,” Mr. Williams said at the launch of the Michigan Cannabis Prisoner Release Campaign.

While Mr. Thompson’s release is a victory, Basore cautions that more work needs to be done.

“We are thankful for the Last Prisoner Project, the Cannabis Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party and celebrities like Montel Williams for lending their voices for this important issue. Today was an important victory, but cannabis businesses cannot back down. We owe it to those who have been unfairly harmed by prohibition to continue fighting to make sure all nonviolent cannabis prisoners are freed and that former cannabis prisoners have the support they need to become productive members of their communities,” said Redemption Cannabis CEO Basore.

Basore notes that Rudi Gammo of Detroit is another nonviolent cannabis prisoner the Michigan Cannabis Prisoner Release Campaign is hoping to still free from prison.

Mr. Gammo was arrested while operating a dispensary sanctioned by the city of Detroit under Michigan’s 2008 medical cannabis law, a dispensary which remains open to this day while Rudi sits behind bars. He is serving a five-year prison sentence that began in 2018 while his family suffers as a result. Rudi’s 6-year-old son Santino Gammo was recently diagnosed with leukemia and has begun treatment without having the help and support of his father.