Free Antonio Bascaro, the Longest Serving Pot Prisoner in the US

With more than half the United States legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, it is difficult to imagine that there are still people all over the country serving hard time over pot possession. However, throughout the course of the past year, we have learned about an unfortunate legion of pot prisoners, like Jeff Mizanskey, who is currently serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole for a three-strike conviction over possession of marijuana.

Antonio Bascaró is soon to become yet another infamous prisoner/casualty of the drug war. He has been incarcerated since the Reagan administration for a marijuana-related offense, which has earned him the unfortunate title of “The Nation’s Longest Serving Marijuana Prisoner.”

For the past 35 years, Bascaró, a former Cuban naval pilot during the Bay of Pigs invasion, has been sitting in a federal prison for his non-violent role in a 1970’s pot smuggling operation. Bascaró, now 80 years old, was sentenced in 1980 to several decades behind bars for working aboard a fishing boat used by Cuban nationals to smuggle cannabis between Colombia to Florida. This was Bascaró’s first and only offense.

Even though Bascaró holds the record for the most time served for a marijuana crime in the United States, his story has gone largely unpublicized since 1982. The sad, but true, fact of the matter is not even organizations that lobby for the release of non-violent pot offenders have heard of Bascaró or the details surrounding his case. He is truly “Marijuana’s forgotten man,” according to a recent article in The Clemency Report.

Unfortunately, 35 years ago, not only did Bascaró lose his life to the harsh penalties associated with marijuana in this country, but his three children also lost their father. His daughter, Aicha Bascaró, was only 12 years old when Bascaró was given the sentence for his one-and-only marijuana offense, leaving the family no choice but to maintain a relationship through occasional visits to a federal penitentiary in Miami.

“My father has paid with his life (and ours) for that one marijuana offense,” said Aicha, who is now the vice president of a company in Atlanta. “I think that the time he has served is more than enough punishment.”

The elderly man, who is now a grandfather, spends the majority of his days confined to a wheelchair, where he reads newspapers and listens to the news from his cell. He is scheduled for release in the summer of 2019, but in poor health, his daughter worries he might die in prison if clemency is not granted.

Unfortunately, because Bascaró’s case happened so many years ago, he does not qualify for the Bureau of Prisons “compassionate release” program, which allows prisoners who are at least 65 years old that have served 50 percent of their sentence the possibility for an early release. Essentially, Bascaró is forced to serve out the remainder of his prison term behind bars because he is not eligible for any of the sentencing reform implemented by the Obama administration over the past few years.

Nevertheless, Bascaró’s family is fighting for his release. They launched a petition several weeks ago in hopes that President Obama will take notice and grant their father the compassion he deserves.

At the time this article was published, the petition still needed over 90,000 signatures in order to get the issue in front of the president.


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