Man With Life Sentence for Marijuana Walks Free

Life Sentence

With recreational marijuana legal in four states and Washington, D.C., and medical marijuana legal in 23 states and the District, it can sometimes be hard to remember that marijuana is still highly illegal in the majority of U.S. states. Missourian Jeff Mizanskey knows this hard truth all-too well, as he was sentenced to life in prison for a non-violent marijuana related charge.

However, perhaps as a sign of the changing times, Mizanskey has been given a second chance at life. In August of this year, the 62-year-old man was granted parole by the state; and on September 1, 2015, Jeff Mizanskey walked out of prison as a free man for the first time in 23 years.

As previously reported in MJINews, Mizanskey was serving life without the eligibility of parole, but his sentence was commuted by Gov. Jay Nixon in May of this year, with Nixon granting clemency to five other non-violent offenders.

Mizanskey’s sentence commutation, and the clemency of the five non-violent offenders, represents a slow shift away from the draconian sentencing guidelines that have guided our nation’s courts for the last several decades.

“The reason he’s getting out is because the public clearly has changed its opinion about marijuana, and it’s just one of many ways in which that has been reflected in recent years,” Dan Viets, Mizanskey’s attorney, told the Associated Press. “These cases really become exhibit A in the need for sentencing reform.”

When Mizanskey was arrested for the crime that would ultimately land him in jail for 23 years, possession of 5 lbs of marijuana, he already had two marijuana-related felonies on his record. Because of those two prior felonies, neither of which he served jail time for, Mizanskey was sentenced to life under the “Prior and Persistent Drug Offender Law.”

With Mizanskey’s release, and the overall trend towards marijuana legalization, one would like to think that no other person could possibly receive the same original sentence as Mizanskey, but the truth is not so kind.

Although Missouri has reduced the penalty to a fine for possessing 10 grams of marijuana or less, and has legalized CBD oil for seizure patients, anything over 10 grams is still a crime punishable by one year in jail.

Selling marijuana paraphernalia is still punishable by four years in jail, and selling five grams or less of marijuana carries a minimum sentence of seven years in jail. Current Missouri drug laws can also disproportionately affect low-income individuals.

If you are caught selling marijuana within 1,000 feet of public housing, i.e., where low-income individuals likely live, you could be incarcerated for a minimum of 10 years and fined $20,000.

With the marijuana industry booming, it is easy to believe that the war on drugs has been won and that the hard work is over, but marijuana users are still being arrested for nonviolent crimes every day and lives are still being ruined. Although the march toward full legalization moves forward, the journey is far from over.

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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