When I was in high school in Canada, I came home one day all excited about a short story we had read, an excerpt from a French novel. The novel was Les Miserables. I told my mother all about it and, of course, she already knew the story. The story, if I recall correctly, was titled “The Bishop’s Candlesticks.” In the story Jean Valjean is an escapee from a French prison and he was sent to prison for a term of 5 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a relative.

I was outraged at the length of his prison sentence and my mother and I both expressed relief that nowadays (that is, the 1960s) in Canada (and, we thought, the United States) such an extreme penalty for such a small offense was a thing of the past.

We were wrong.

Here’s an excerpt from Elizabeth Nolan Brown, “This 38-Year-Old man Will Spend Life in Prison Over 1.5 Ounces of Marijuana,” Reason, May 13, 2021:

With so many states choosing to legalize marijuana, it’s easy to forget how draconian the penalties for possession can still be. Case in point: The Mississippi Court of Appeals just upheld a life sentence for 38-year-old Allen Russell for being in possession of about one and a half ounces of the drug.

Russell was sentenced in 2019, after being convicted for having 1.55 ounces (or about 44 grams) of marijuana. On appeal, Russell’s lawyers argued that his life sentence amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment and is grossly disproportionate.”

Brown goes on to point out that this minor possession was a third strike.

Actually, this is worse than what happened to Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean stole from someone. There was no allegation that Allen Russell stole his marijuana.

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