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Eric McCauley is our final feature in the ILLICIT Freedoms Campaign, which highlights the unheard stories from prisoners of the war on cannabis. Eric was sentenced to 23 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana in Boone County, Mo., as well as distribution and possession of marijuana and money laundering. He spent 12.5 years in a federal prison, costing US taxpayers $453,740.63.


Eric says, “If I would have known how strong the right to counsel is, I would have fought harder to keep [my lawyer].” Eric spent 3.5 years in Morgan County jail waiting for the DEA to build their case and go to trial. 


“The jury came back and said they agreed, I did not sell 1,000 kilos of marijuana, which I thought was a really good thing. But they did convict me of the ‘lesser and concluded offense’ of 100 kilos or more.” Eric was conflicted, he went to trial to fight the charge of distributing 1,000 kilos and won, but was still convicted.

His sentencing judge paid no mind to the jury’s lesser ruling.

Eric says, “The jury is supposed to be the higher finder of fact; it is in state court. In a federal court, a judge can use the lower standard ‘beyond the preponderance of evidence’ to override the higher standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ so long as there’s some conviction. So because there’s a conviction of the 100 kilos she said, ‘Even though the jury did reject the thousand, I feel like you sold it,’ so she gives me 23 freaking years in federal prison as a first time, non-violent, cannabis offender from here in Missouri.”

Eric was incarcerated in federal prison, and frequently traveled to 5 different states and 5 different prisons. He remembers, “There are people who don’t have anything to look forward to in life, violent people, and they’re excited about being a warrior and leading this violent life,” he continues, “ then you get guys like me stuck there. You’re not violent, but you’re not just gonna back down. And you end up in some really screwed up situations.”


Eric was sentenced to 23 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, plus what he calls, “a slew of enhancements, like of course you get money laundering, but it’s just for depositing marijuana proceeds in the bank. They say there’s sophisticated money laundering but there’s nothing sophisticated about it. “


In the end, he was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, one count of distributing marijuana and two counts of possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute, costing US taxpayers $453,740.63. 

He adds, “The country does not want to incarcerate 30,000 people for this. If you’ve got dispensaries and all these people that are in violation of 841A1, and that’s what I violated, that’s what all those people violated, why are they still in prison?”

Eric McCauley


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