Missouri legalized medicinal marijuana in 2019 and laws regarding marijuana are liberalizing nationwide. However, many people are still struggling under laws that seek to oppress the very behavior our society, state, and country have recently moved to legalize: marijuana use and possession.
One of those victims is an elderly, sick Missouri man recently imprisoned and facing years more for possessing and using marijuana.
Steven Sutherland is a 60-year-old man with chronic heart disease, diabetes, and neurological issues. He has been on prescription medication for years with little relief of his medical issues. Sutherland argues that marijuana self-medication reduced the severity of his seizures. In 2015, the authorities raided his home and found 110 grams of marijuana along with 21 marijuana plants.
He had previously been found guilty of marijuana possession in 1996. Because of this previous non-violent offense, he was charged with a Class B felony, which is usually found in violent crimes like armed robbery and rape.
In April of 2019 after repeated delays due to his illness, a jury convicted Sutherland of marijuana possession. A judge sentenced him to ten years in prison.
Sutherland claims he has consumed the plant for decades in order to alleviate debilitating symptoms of his illnesses. He previously had a prescription from California for medicinal use and was buying it from there for years until he could no longer afford it. He then started growing the plants at home as an alternative.
In a letter to the court, his doctor from Mercy Hospital wrote that she had prescribed, “multiple seizure medication without much benefit.” She added, “I believe medical use of marijuana may help his seizure[s].”
In the 2015 raid where marijuana was found, Sutherland was also in possession of weapons. Sutherland was legally prohibited from having guns due to his status as a convicted felon. The prosecutors filed yet another felony against him that would carry multiple more years in prison. This charge was eventually dropped after Sutherland and his lawyers filed an appeal.
Sutherland is still in prison in ill health, and has been damned to years more in prison. Generally, even if a prisoner gets released early, they must serve 30 percent of the original sentence. He is concerned that he won’t last that long.
Sutherland and others in similar positions are caught in a decades-old struggle between our government and a plant. Ironically, his punishment is coming at the exact time our society is liberalizing for the benefit of forgotten Americans like him.