Jeff Mizanskey was arrested in 1993 for his involvement in selling 6 pounds of marijuana, in a deal that turned out to be a sting operation. He pleaded guilty to nonviolent marijuana possession charges, his third marijuana offense. Missouri’s “prior and persistent drug offender” law made it possible for the judge in his case to give Mizanskey a harsher sentence, so although he never sold marijuana to minors, nor was he ever convicted of any violent crimes, Mizanskey was sentenced to life in prison without parole. In a press release published by Missouri activist group Show-Me Cannabis, Mizansky’s lawyer Dan Viets says “He saw rapists, murderers and child molesters get out of prison while he was sentenced to die behind bars for something that should not be a crime to begin with.”

Chris Mizanskey, Jeff’s son, organized a petition for his father’s release on change.org that garnered nearly 400,000 signatures. This petition, along with the efforts of marijuana activist groups and letter from over 100 Missouri lawmakers showed the strong support for Jeff’s release. The campaign even including a letter arguing for clemency from the prosecutor who argued the case against Mizanskey. Due to lack of support, the law that allowed for his harsh sentence was repealed in 2014, and in May of this year Missouri’s Democratic Governor, Jay Nixon, changed Mizansky’s sentence to life with parole, which was granted by a Missouri state parole board on August 10th.

After over twenty years behind bars, one third of this 61 year old man’s life, Jeff Mizanskey was released from Jefferson City Correctional Center early Tuesday morning, September 1st. Jeff has stated that he plans to channel his experience to work as an advocate for the legalization of marijuana, and prison reform. Local CBS news station 13KRCG quotes Mizanskey as saying “Right now, a lot of what we got going on in here is a training ground, because these guys have no hope…A lot of them have no hope. No light at the end of the tunnel. And when you don’t have any hope, you give up, anything goes, they don’t really care.”Luckily, Jeff Mizanskey and his family did not give up. He now has the opportunity to meet his great-grand daughter, and spend his remaining years with his family. If you are interested in showing your support for Jeff Mizanskey, his family has set up a GoFundMe page to help cover the costs of his transition back into a normal life. Mizanskey’s attorney has agreed to insure that all the money goes directly to Jeff. A press release published on The Weed Blog quotes Mizanskey as saying  “I’ve got a lot of family members and people here that are going to help me learn, but it’s going to take some time…I’ve never been on the Internet. As far as a telephone, I used to walk into a telephone booth and drop a dime in there. Now there are these things called smartphones.”

According to a January 2014 Report by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, over 50 percent of the approximately 215,000 inmates in federal prison are there for drug charges, and 27.6 percent of those are marijuana related. Unnecessarily harsh sentences like the one received by Jeff Mizanskey are contributing to overcrowding in our prisons, and exorbitant amounts of tax payer money being spent on housing and caring for these prisoners. More of this money could be spent on rehabilitation and skills training for the more serious offenders who belong in prison if we weren’t spending those dollars on feeding and housing people convicted of nonviolent, marijuana related crimes.

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