CANNABIS CULTURE – “I’m so blessed to be released but there are still a lot (of cannabis prisoners) that are still there,” says Andy Cox — now reunited with his mother, two children, and extended family in Florida after 13 years in federal lock-up.
In 2004, Cox began growing cannabis plants in the Chattahoochee National Forest of Georgia where his father owned land. After complaints from neighbors, National Forest Service agents followed ATV tracks to the property where Cox had his operation. “It wasn’t really about the money,” Cox said. To him, growing was more about being a connoisseur.
Cox was indicted in 2005 for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana.
To avoid jail time, Cox lived as a fugitive for three years continuing to work in the cannabis black market. Cox said it was not easy. The sacrifices were huge, “I had to give up my children.”
He was captured in 2008. Since this was his third strike, Cox was sentenced to a life sentence without parole, despite having no history of violence. “I would’ve never grown marijuana if I knew I would get a life sentence. It’s just unbelievable,” said the former Firefighter.
On December 21, 2020, the Law Firm, Goodwin — partnered with Last Prisoner Project (LPP) to file for Cox’s release, citing the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice bill passed to reduce lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for repeat drug offenders.
Goodwin stated that Cox, now 57, should be released since his life sentence was issued under an outdated system of regulations for an act (cultivating cannabis) that is legal in many states. His age and preexisting conditions also put him at risk of dying from COVID-19 in prison.
On January 5, 2021, a judge ordered Cox’s immediate release.
“I think every case is different…in a case where you have a life sentence for a nonviolent offense that obviously resonated with the government and the judge,” said Brett Schuman, Cannabis practice Co-chair at Goodwin. Despite the fast turnaround time, Schuman doesn’t believe that “this is the winds of change” for cannabis offenses or nonviolent life sentences.
Schuman went on to say the cannabis industry in the US alone is a $60 Billion a year industry. “I do feel that there is a moral obligation on the part of, if not all of society, at least those of us that are working in this industry and profiting from it to help people like Andy.”
“There is a big misconception that people think as legalization becomes more widespread we are just automatically letting those still incarcerated for cannabis offenses out. Obviously, that is not true,” Executive Director and General Counsel of LPP Sarah Gersten said. Currently, LPP has “five or six” active cases in the pipeline with Goodwin. LPP heard about Cox’s case from collaborating groups Freedom Grow and Life4Pot.