While we officially became a nonprofit corporation January 2016, the Marijuana Lifer Project’s work grew out one woman’s passion for the cause that nobody should be serving a life sentence for a nonviolent marijuana offense.
MLP founder Cheri Sicard had been a cannabis reform activist for a number of years and even she didn’t know about the marijuana Lifers, other than in a vague urban legend sense of the word. It wasn’t until she was doing research for her 7th book, Mary Jane: The Complete Marijuana Handbook for Women (2015, Seal Press), that she encountered Randy Lanier. Randy had been the 1986 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, by 1987 he was incarcerated on a sentence of life without parole for a nonviolent marijuana conspiracy offense.
When Cheri first (electronically and by phone) met Randy, he had largely been forgotten. The website he thought he had, had been down for over a year, nobody was talking about him, and there was nowhere for anyone to find information about him. Cheri jumped in, recruited the help of business partner Mitch Mandell, and built Randy a new website, and started doing PR and social media outreach for him.
The issue that someone could be condemned to spend the rest of their lives behind bars for a benevolent plant that much of the country was now freely enjoying, haunted Cheri. It still does. She soon added more Marijuana Lifers to the group she and Mitch were helping, including Paul Free, Craig Cesal, Larry Duke (now released), Michael Pelletier, and Billy Dekle (also now released).
Before long the Marijuana Lifers had become an integral part of Cheri’s life. She was speaking on the phone and emailing many of them on a daily basis. She started seeking out and corresponding with as many more as she could find. She was advocating for them, talking to elected officials about them, doing public speeches about them, organizing presences for them at rallies and events, making banners and posters about them, and generally trying to get the public to get to know the real men behind these cruel and unusual sentences.
Along the way, there were victories that made it all worthwhile. Randy Lanier, the first Marijuana Lifer that Cheri worked with, was released in 2014. Larry Duke was granted a compassionate release in early 2015. In December 2015, President Barack Obama granted clemency to marijuana lifers Charles Cundiff and Billy Dekle. (Larry Duke, and Billy Dekle both serve on the Marijuana Lifer Project’s Advisory Board of Directors.)
While Cheri had been intending to start a nonprofit organization to work on the issue all along, there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. But she kept working for the lifers on her own until FINALLY she realized she had to stop and put the infrastructure in place, as she could accomplish more with the help of others and the backing of a nonprofit corporation. Hence the Marijuana Lifer Project was born. Mitch Mandell, along with friends and fellow advocates Lanny Swerdlow, Kandice Hawes, and Mara Felsen came on board, and here we all are, ready to put an end, once and for all, to life sentences for marijuana!
More Early Marijuana Lifer Project Activism