In the fight for marijuana legalization or even for criminal justice reform, you’ll often hear of people serving jail time for non-violent drug offenses. When these sentences are more severe than those being served by people found guilty of crimes against other people, crimes where there are tangible victims, it’s evidence of a broken system and the failed War on Drugs. In Missouri, one man is living the worst-case scenario, serving a life sentence for a marijuana offense.
Jeff Mizanskey didn’t have a clean record when he was sentenced to prison for what may be the rest of his life. He had prior drug offenses, but he was never accused of hurting anyone and all of his prior charges were marijuana related.
In 1993 he was arrested and found guilty of possessing five pounds of pot and intending to distribute it. No, Mizanskey wasn’t operating some high-level drug operation, but instead drove an acquaintance to make a drug deal—a drug deal that ended up being a sting.
The target of the sting, and Mizanskey’s acquaintance, Atilano Quintana has since been released from prison, so too have the other men involved. All were released “years ago”, according to TakePart.com, but Mizanskey has stayed locked up for the last 20 years.
As for his criminal history, Mizanskey was arrested in 1984 for selling an ounce of pot to a relative who turned around and sold it to a cop. In 1991, he was busted for possessing more than 35 grams of marijuana and spent 60 days in county jail.
Under Missouri’s archaic “three strikes law”, his latest bust permitted a judge to deliver a life sentence—a sentence far too excessive for the crime, particularly considering the absence of violence, firearms, or a violent past.
“When you have laws like this with no bending room, you get a case like Jeff where it’s really unjust,” said St. Louis based attorney Kate Hummel, who says Mizanskey’s case is well known in the state’s legal circles. “It’s absolutely unfair.”
Mizanskey’s son, who was 13 at the time of his father’s last arrest, is working for his dad’s release. The younger Mizanskey, Chris, has started a petition to convince Gov. Jeremiah Nixon to grant his father clemency. He has a country full of marijuana advocates and criminal justice reformists on his side, along with attorney Tony Nenninger.
“I am not aware of any other person in Missouri who is serving a life sentence for non-violent cannabis-only offenses,” writes Nenninger in the plea for clemency.
“It is no secret that all recent major polls indicate over 50 [percent] of Americans, including Missourians, favor the complete legalization of adult use of marijuana. We are not asking you to commit to this new majority preference for cannabis legalization, but rather as Governor of Missouri to represent the current population’s modern socio-political trends to liberalize marijuana laws in considering the commutation of Jeff’s sentence.”
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