Jeff Mizanskey, Who Served 21 Years of a Life Sentence for Marijuana, is Released

September 1st 2015

Jeff Mizanskey, who was in a Missouri prison serving a life sentence for marijuana-related charges was released Tuesday after 21 years behind bars.

Mizanskey's release comes after years of effort from a slew of supporters, including his family, litigators, and marijuana activists who argued that his sentence was much too stiff, the Associated Press reports. Petitions, billboards, and a documentary, as well as a plea from the prosecutor who initially charged him, helped pave the way for his release.

"I've spent a third of my life in prison. One-third," an emotional Mizanskey, 61, told a gathered crowd following his release Tuesday. "That's a shame. This is America. I just can't believe it happened."

A press release described the case as a prime example of the failure of the war on drugs, in which a life sentence was handed down for a minor, nonviolent marijuana offense. "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," said Dan Viets, Mizanskey's lawyer, in a statement.

The AP reports that Mizanskey was sentenced in 1996 following charges alleging he intended to sell six pounds of marijuana to a dealer with ties to Mexican drug cartels. He had two previous drug convictions in 1984 and 1991, one for possession and sale of marijuana and the other for possession. Under Missouri law at the time of his sentencing, persistent drug offenders were given life without parole. That law was repealed by the Missouri General Assembly last year. The repeal becomes effective in 2017. Mizanskey was the only inmate serving such a sentence, according to the AP.

The release comes after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) agreed to commute Mizanskey's sentence in May, allowing the inmate to argue for his freedom.

"My father has never met his grandchildren and wasn't allowed to attend the funerals when his parents died," said his son, Chris Mizanskey in a statement. "His conviction devastated the family."

More people are paying attention to the problem of nonviolent drug offenders in prison. President Obama has commuted the sentences of a number of them this year, but advocates are hoping he can do more.

At least 1.5 million people were arrested for nonviolent drug crimes in 2013, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. They also report that 693,482 people were arrested for a marijuana law violation in 2013. And of those, 88 percent were arrested for possession only.

Check out this video to learn more about the need to reform our drug laws:

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