82-Year-Old Approaching 37th Year Imprisoned For Marijuana

Hinckley-vs-Bascaro

On April 18, 1980, my friend Robert Platshorn was convicted for his role in a non-violent marijuana smuggling operation that brought Colombian marijuana up through Miami, Florida.

Author with The Silver Tour's Robert Platshorn in his home office in West Palm Beach, Florida, December 2016. (Click to visit Bobby's organization, The Silver Tour, which helps educate seniors about cannabis as medicine.)
Author with The Silver Tour’s Robert Platshorn in his home office in West Palm Beach, Florida, December 2016. (Click to visit Bobby’s organization, The Silver Tour, which helps educate seniors about cannabis as medicine.)

Two months prior, on February 21, 1980, 45-year-old Antonio Bascaró was placed in jail custody, awaiting his trial on charges relating to his involvement in a non-violent Cuban marijuana smuggling ring that helped bring in weed from Colombia to Florida.

29-year-old Antonio Bascaró in 1964 (Photo by Aicha Bascaró / NBC News) (Click to visit Change.org petition to Free Antonio Bascaró)
29-year-old Antonio Bascaró in 1964 (Photo by Aicha Bascaró / NBC News) (Click to visit Change.org petition to Free Antonio Bascaró)

On March 30, 1981, would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr., fired a small handgun six times at President Ronald Reagan.

Antonio Bascaró was still sitting in a jail cell on that day. He was a Cuban exile, having flown for the Cuban Navy and was part of the CIA’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion. He had no criminal history at all and there were no other drugs or any violence involved in his role in the smuggling.

On June 21, 1982, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity by the jury in his trial. The defense had argued that Hinckley had narcissistic personality disorder and was pathologically obsessed with actress Jodie Foster and her role in the 1976 movie Taxi Driver, which they argued drove Hinckley to shoot Reagan. Due to his mental illness, Hinckley was never sent to prison, but instead committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a mental institution.

Failed presidential assassin John Hinckley, Jr.
Failed presidential assassin John Hinckley, Jr.

Antonio Bascaró also went to trial in 1982. Then 47, he was found guilty of his first-time, non-violent marijuana offense and was sent to federal prison.

In 1994, 59-year-old Antonio Bascaró still sat in that prison when the convicted leader of that Cuban marijuana smuggling ring, Jose Luis Acosta, was set free. As Acosta told NBC News:

The reason, Acosta said, was that he cut deals with federal agents, offering them information on a number of other cases involving drug trafficking and police corruption, including one that targeted the jewelry store owner who introduced him to Bascaro. Prosecutors, in turn, persuaded judges to shorten his time in prison. He said he tried to get Bascaro to do the same, but his former partner refused.

“I’m very sorry he’s still in prison,” Acosta said. “He’s been in too long. I tried to get him to cooperate. But he lost his opportunity to do something for himself to get out of there.”

Antonio Bascaró and Jose Luis Acosta in prison (Photo: Jose Luis Acosta / NBC News)
Antonio Bascaró and Jose Luis Acosta in prison (Photo: Jose Luis Acosta / NBC News)

In 1999, 64-year-old Antonio Bascaró still sat in that prison when St. Elizabeth’s Hospital began allowing Hinckley to leave for supervised visits with his parents.

In 2005, 70-year-old Antonio Bascaró still sat in that prison when a federal judge ruled Hinckley could leave the hospital three or four days at a time to visit his parents, solely under their supervision.

In 2008, 73-year-old Antonio Bascaró still sat in that prison when my friend Bobby Platshorn, then the longest-serving non-violent marijuana prisoner in America, was released from prison at the age of 64 after serving 29 years.

36 years after trying to kill President Reagan and successfully injuring four others, John Hinckley is free to go get a Subway sandwich. (Photo: NY Post)
36 years after trying to kill President Reagan and successfully injuring four others, John Hinckley is free to go get a Subway sandwich. (Photo: NY Post)

This year, a federal judge declared that 61-year-old John Hinckley Jr. was no longer a threat to society and freed him to go live with his mother. Over the past decade, Hinckley had been spending up to 17 days per month free from the hospital.

This Feburary, 82-year-old Antonio Bascaró will mark his 37th year behind bars, sitting in his wheelchair, hoping to live long enough to see his scheduled release on June 8, 2019.

82-year-old Antonio Bascaró, is America's longest-serving non-violent marijuana prisoner, approaching 37 years for his first criminal offense. (Photo: Antonio Bascaró / NBC News)
82-year-old Antonio Bascaró, is America’s longest-serving non-violent marijuana prisoner, approaching 37 years for his first criminal offense. (Photo: Antonio Bascaró / NBC News)

President Obama has made history by commuting the sentence of hundreds of drug criminals, more than the last eleven presidents combined. However, Antonio Bascaró’s sentence has not been one of them, as his son explains in their Change.org petition:

Even though President Obama has given 944 commutations (clemency) so far, my father’s was not one of them. To the contrary, he was given the news that his clemency has been officially DENIED. There is no mercy for the longest serving prisoner for a non-violent marijuana offense, an 82 year old grand father who has been in prison for 36 years. We are heartbroken and can’t understand why. We were not given a reason.

Last month, NBC News reported on the case, explaining how Antonio Bascaró did everything he could to try to get released early, to no avail:

He amassed good-behavior credits and tried repeatedly to appeal the length of his sentence. He applied for compassionate release, due to his age, and was denied. That left clemency as his only option. He filed twice on his own, and this summer got volunteer assistance from a lawyer working for a program aimed at processing the massive number of applications to Obama’s clemency initiative. That, too, failed.

Apparently, according to HIGH TIMES’ Mike Adams, there is a statute of limitations when it comes to compassion for elderly, non-violent marijuana offenders:

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.

The Clemency Report explains further:

Antonio’s Orwellian sentence includes such legal absurdities as:

  • a non-parolable parolable sentence.
  • a sentence exempt from the Obama administration’s efforts to shorten drug sentences … because he’s been in prison too long.
  • a sentence that doesn’t qualify for the U.S. Sentencing Commission recent reforms (shortening the drug sentences of 40,000 federal prisoners) because … his sentence is too old to be shortened.
  • an ineligibility to receive “compassionate release” for elderly prisoners … because the regulations were written in a way that didn’t take into account the existence of a man so old and locked up for so long.

Any nation that could keep a disabled elderly man behind bars for a non-violent crime that’s now legal in eight states and approved of by 60 percent of the public because “that’s the law”, while treating with kid gloves a would-be presidential assassin because he’s “insane”… well, I don’t know if I can put it any better than Robert Platshorn did when he and Antonio Bascaró were first imprisoned:

HIGH TIMES October 1979 coverage of Bobby Platshorn's sentencing.
HIGH TIMES October 1979 coverage of Bobby Platshorn’s sentencing.

“Pot dealers in America are given the same type of justice as a Jew in Hitler’s Third Reich or a black man in Florida. [Sentences that call for imprisoning pot dealers] are as irrational and cruel as the Inquisition or the witch trials.  I now face more prison time than some of the worst villains in our history, more than a second-degree murderer, rapist, child arsonist, more than Al Capone and probably more than Charlie Manson.”

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 191 Articles
Russ Belville - or "Radical" Russ, as he is known on-air - hosts The Russ Belville Show - The Voice of the Marijuana Nation, a two-hour live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on RadicalRuss.com (learn more on our Podcast page).  The show is based in Portland, Oregon, but "Radical" Russ has traveled over 300,000 air miles in the past five years, bringing his show to report live from hundreds of cannabis conferences, marijuana expos, hemp festivals, and legalization events in over 50 North American cities.