In 2018, 56% of Michigan voters successfully passed Proposition 1, or the Michigan Taxation and Regulation of Marijuana Act, establishing a legal marketplace for cannabis that raked in $31.9 million in its first three months, January through March of this year. As the name of the new law implies, Michigan established a taxed and regulated marketplace for cannabis available to any adult aged 21 or older.
Well… not quite any adult.
Michael Thompson is 69 years old and is certainly a Michigan resident, but his current address is at the Muskegon Correctional Facility where he is 25 years deep into a 40-60 year sentence on yet another range of non-violent cannabis charges. In fact, Thompson is the longest-serving nonviolent offender in the history of the state of Michigan… and he needs our help.
Think back for a minute about what you were doing in the year 1994, if some of you younger cats were even born yet.
Think of how much time has passed since then, how much you’ve seen and experienced over those 2+ decades.
Well, in 1994, set up by local law enforcement, Thompson was surveilled selling three pounds of weed for $4,200 to someone he thought was a friend but was actually an informant. He has been locked up ever since.
Now do you feel that anger in your gut?
If not or if so, keep reading.
A true child of Flint, Michigan, Michael Thompson learned early to make due without while growing up in the 1960s. A starting Guard for three seasons on the Flint Central High School basketball team, Thompson went on to serve his country in the U.S. Navy.
Honorably discharged from the Navy, Thompson accepted a job with General Motors, through a veteran’s program. As the quality of life in Flint continued to slide downward, Thompson stayed in his hometown and is credited with squashing turf wars between local gangs. He was granted the NAACP Youth Award and was even given the “Key to the City” at one point.
This was the 80s and 90s, though, and shit was wild as some of you know. Thompson had his share of run-ins with the law throughout his adulthood, dating back as far as 1982. A review of local District Court records reveals that Thompson had already been convicted three times of cocaine-related offenses. His record also includes a single charge of conspiracy to bring contraband into prison and another for possession of a fraudulent financial transaction device.
That made his sale of three pounds of pot to an undercover cop potentially his fourth felony offense under state law, branding him with the label of Habitual Offender which could compound his sentencing if convicted.
That still wasn’t enough, apparently.
Here’s basically how the bust went down.
Thompson thought he was dealing with a homeboy. The dude asks him for three elbows, then Thompson gives him a price of $4,200. The rat runs back to his handler and asks for the cash, it’s given to him, and he returns to Thompson to do the deal.
Thompson tells the guy to kick it while he goes elsewhere to get the goods. At this point, Thompson takes off and heads to his safehouse where he has the weed stashed. He grabs the bag, takes it back to the dude, they make the exchange, and go their separate ways.
Thompson is pulled over and arrested shortly thereafter, but not before officers convinced his old lady to let them search her place – the safehouse. There they not only find their $4,200, but more cash, more weed, and some guns.
Mind you, the informant mentioned no gun and the cops found no gun on Thompson when he was later arrested. In fact, his wife claimed that most of the weapons were hers, even showing officers that the .357 they found was tucked under her side of the mattress. Other firearms were inside a locked closet and most could be categorized as antiques and were inoperable.
Being a convicted felon, however, Thompson was not supposed to own any firearms and the cops saw an opening.
The cannabis-related charges of possession with intent to deliver marijuana, conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver marijuana and delivery of marijuana carried a max sentence of 4-15 years and Thompson entered into a plea deal with the state prosecutor for a four-year sentence.
That deal was tossed out of court by the judge, a lady named Judith Fullerton, who forced the case to go to trial and then handed Thompson a life-changing, and by virtually all accounts an incredibly excessive sentence of 40-60 years by placing the emphasis of her decision on the final two charges; possession of a weapon by a convicted felon; and possession of a weapon during the commission of a felony.
But wait… he and his wife said that the guns did not belong to him, and nobody is saying that he had any of them anywhere near him when he sold the weed to the informant. In Michigan in the mid-90s though, that didn’t matter.
THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY
Michigan’s Habitual Offender Law absolutely played a role in the harsh punishment Thompson received, but the true culprit was the implementation of a bullshit legal term known as Constructive Possession.
Pay attention here.
In the eyes of the court, a defendant can have ‘active’ or ‘constructive’ possession of a piece of evidence – in this case, firearms. The prosecution made the argument that even though Thompson didn’t actively possess the gun while dealing with the informant, the fact that he went anywhere near them while grabbing the weed was enough to constitute possession.
That led to the Possession of a Weapon by a Convicted Felon charge which carries, by far, the bulk of Thompson’s 40-60 year sentence.
His public defender approved a 12-person jury that only had one person of color on it, and none of the 12 were from anywhere within Flint city limits. This was not a jury of his peers and the result was his conviction.
He appealed the decision, making the case that the decision violated his constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, but was denied. The appeals court made sure to point out that Thompson committed some of these past crimes while on probation or parole for some of the other crimes. This distinction was made in an attempt to paint Mr. Thompson as some sort of threat to society but ignored the bigger picture.
First of all, every time that Thompson broke the law – including the weed sale in question – it was a non-violent offense. But beyond that, it is that system, that web of court appearances, petty charges, probation, and the stigma surrounding it all that traps people in and makes it nearly impossible to ever truly break free from.
This isn’t just some anti-establishment talking point, either. This is backed by facts right in Thompson’s home state of Michigan where still today, black men between the ages of 18 and 24 are TEN TIMES more likely to be arrested for weed compared to a white female in the same age bracket, even though the two demographics consume a relatively comparable amount of cannabis.
Looking back even further, right into the era of time that Thompson was accused of these crimes, the ACLU was reporting that “a 1990 statistical evaluation of police intake decisions in five Michigan counties revealed that, even when controlling for other statistically significant factors such as drug charges, weapons possession, or prior convictions, ‘race continued to exert an independent and significant influence on detention…[while] youth of color were more likely to be charged with more serious offenses, they were also more likely to be detained independent of offense seriousness’”.
In the 25 years that Michael Thompson has been behind bars, tens of thousands of other black males have likely had their lives flipped upside down, if not ruined altogether, by cannabis prohibition in the state of Michigan.
During that time, Thompson has seen a black man become the President of the United States of America after admitting to chiefing some weed with the “Choom Gang” in his own youth.
He saw the state in which he is incarcerated become the 10th in the nation to legalize not just medical marijuana, but recreational weed for adults, forming multimillion-dollar marijuana markets that cater to people who wouldn’t willingly be within a city block of a pound of weed prior to the laws changing.
But that’s not all he has witnessed from prison.
That public defender of his, a man named Kenny Scott, has since been arrested on drug allegations of his own, ending his career practicing law.
Three of the arresting officers in Thompson’s case have also had their own bouts with karma. All three have done prison time since shaking down Michael Thompson. One of them, a real pig named Ralph Tedford, was convicted of raping a woman he pulled over.
They wonder why shits on fire these days…
The judge in Thompson’s case had a hard-earned reputation for strict sentencing prompting the appeals court to admit: “While we agree that [Thompson’s] forty to sixty year sentence is quite severe and would likely have opted for a lesser minimum term ourselves, we are unable to conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing such a lengthy term.”
Maybe if Judge Fullerton had kneeled on his neck for a while during the trial, the appeals court would have had more sympathy. Probably not.
Sadly, while in prison, Michael Thompson has had to endure the death of his mother, his father, and his son. He was only able to attend the funeral for his mother whose one wish was that her son would not die in prison.
Michael Thompson is not eligible for parole until 2038 when he will be 95 years old.
For three pounds of weed.
There is some hope, however, and here is how we can help.
FREE MICHAEL THOMPSON
After having three appeals denied, along with two previous attempts at clemency, advocates for Michael Thompson see an opening of their own, and now is the time to right this wrong.
Eligible for clemency again this year, Thompson and those fighting for his freedom are hopeful that a perfect storm of progressivism and civil unrest could be the key to his early release.
Thompson is confident that the clemency board at the prison that he is currently being held in will recognize the relevance of his request and forward it along to the state governor for a final decision.
Thompson made it that far through the process back in 2018 but had his request denied by then-Governor Rick Snyder who ultimately ran away from office hounded by accusations of covering up the toxic tapwater crisis in Thompson’s own town of Flint, Michigan.
Now, though, there is renewed hope with a new Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, that Thompson’s story and request will not fall on deaf ears.
You’d have to be deaf not to hear the demands for Thompson’s release, and those demands are about to get much louder.
Civil rights activist Shaun King has taken a keen interest in Michael Thompson’s story and through the Last Prisoner Project campaign helped launch the website freemichaelthompson.com which has gained a lot of traction leading up to this renewed push to get Thompson home to his family in 2020.
With high profile names like Shaun King, the mayor of Flint, and even Kim Kardashian lobbying on his behalf, Thompson will also have a documentary of his story released in coming weeks. Produced by Synonymous Pictures and featuring compelling content conveyed to the audience from Michael Thompson himself the goal of the doc is to raise awareness not only about Thompson’s plight but the plight of countless Americans caught up in the failure known as the War on Drugs.
His latest clemency petition was fortified by over 20,000 letters from supporters, including in a nearly unprecedented manner, support from the county prosecutor David Leyton who wrote that Thompson’s sentence “goes against the interests of justice and fairness”.
On top of all of this, the 69-year old Thompson with a nearly spotless disciplinary record in 25 years of prison, is struggling with Type 2 Diabetes.
With compassionate release programs kicking off across the country aimed at reducing the sentences of elderly, non-violent, health-compromised inmates, now is the time to get Michael Thompson free, home, and safe with his family.
CALL TO ACTION
Now, more than ever, we need your help to set Michael Thompson free. We are asking that you call and request that the parole board and Governor Whitman’s office expedite Thompson’s request for clemency. We cannot allow a cannabis sentence to become a death sentence for Michael. Make your voice heard and let’s FREE MICHAEL THOMPSON NOW!
MICHIGAN STATE PAROLE BOARD
GOV. WHITMER’S OFFICE
We would like to send a special thank you to a few folks for putting us on this particular path, and for their tireless advocacy for these prisoners. Weldon Angelos continues to be an inspiration and a top shelf resource for us in our quest to help as many prisoners as possible. Michael Thompson’s key advocates here on the outside – Joe Grumbine (The Human Solution International), DeeDee Kirkwood, Claudia Perkins, and Sarah Gersten from Last Prisoner Project – have all been instrumental in keeping Michael’s story alive. Also, a thank you to Ian Ross and the crew at Synonymous Pictures who provided incredibly useful insight that is sure to carry over to their documentary. Look for that soon at the Last Prisoner Project website. Thank you all and, of course, all our love and respect to Michael Thompson. Let’s get you home, sir.