The way Michael Pelletier sees it, any given legal dispensary handles more cannabis than he sold in his entire life – and he’s the one serving life without parole.

The 61-year-old – who started using cannabis at age 14 after a farming accident put him in a wheelchair for life – was incarcerated in 2004 on charges of conspiring to import and distribute marijuana.

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Michael Pelletier, serving Life for Marijuana.

When he first entered the United States penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana – the latest in an uncounted number of ‘marijuana lifers’ locked away in U.S. federal prisons for nonviolent cannabis crimes – Pelletier was hopeful about the prospect of an early release. He poured his energy into new hobbies, taking up guitar and oil painting.  

But watching the medical and recreational legalization movement gain traction outside the four walls around him – while he continues to face the rest of his days inside them – has left Pelletier feeling discouraged. He doesn’t paint or play guitar much anymore.

“It kind of pisses me off, actually... here I am doing a life sentence and marijuana is legal in 29 states [in some form],” Pelletier told Civilized over one of his allotted 15-minute phone-calls. “One dispensary [owner] will sell more than I sold my whole life and they’re buying boats and cars.”

While it’s certainly a good thing to see public perception about cannabis finally shifting in a positive direction, Pelletier said the government’s seemingly arbitrary rulings have “ruined lives in the meantime.”

“Marijuana is not the Devil’s weed. It was always just a bunch of lies, and now that they’ve realized they can make money off it, [it’s legal],” said Pelletier. “They once said it killed people but now it’s okay? How many people’s lives have you [destroyed] in that time?”

It’s hard to feel optimistic, admits Pelletier; particularly when people like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recently described cannabis as “only slightly less awful" than heroin, are at the helm.

He describes prison as “a waiting room for death.”

“The way things are, I’m losing hope big time,” he said, adding that it’s nonsensical to him that he’s locked up alongside murderers and other serious criminals. “Everyone is just walking around waiting for death. You ain’t got no parole. You ain’t got nothing.”