In August, a Missouri man serving a life sentence for a non-violent marijuana violation was pardoned after an outpouring of public pressure. Today, Jeff Mizanskey walked out of prison a free man after more than 20 years of incarceration.
Jeff Mizanskey walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center and into the arms of more than a dozen family, friends and supporters Tuesday morning. Mizanskey was granted parole on Aug. 10 after Gov. Jay Nixon commuted his sentence to life with the possibility of parole in May. The only person in Missouri serving a life-without-parole sentence for a marijuana offense, Mizanskey had been the focus of an intensive lobbying effort. When Mizanskey was arrested in 1993 after selling 6 pounds of marijuana to a dealer connected to Mexican drug cartels, life without parole was an option for repeat drug offenders. State lawmakers repealed that provision in 2014 as part of a broader overhaul of the state's criminal code.
Mizanskey said he plans to continue to advocate for marijuana legalization and prison reform.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed a limited medical marijuana bill into law yesterday. HB 2238 allows some patients with intractable epilepsy access to products containing marijuana extracts. Those extracts must be limited primarily to a non-psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant called cannabidiol, or CBD.
Many believe high-CBD marijuana extracts are effective in helping alleviate severe seizure conditions — reducing both the frequency and intensity of seizures. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of patients who can benefit from medical marijuana have this condition, so the vast majority of seriously ill patients in Missouri will be left out of the state program. MPP has a short analysis of the law available here.
Several other states have passed laws that are similarly limited. For the most part, laws passed in other states are not workable due to limitations imposed under federal law. By contrast, Missouri’s carefully crafted law is unique in that it may actually lead to a functioning program. This will be great news for those few seriously ill seizure patients who will be able to participate.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Nixon made Missouri history by allowing the state to join the ranks of 18 others that have eliminated the possibility of jail time for the possession of marijuana. The new law made several significant reforms to the state’s criminal laws, including protecting people caught with up to 10 grams from incarceration for choosing a substance that is safer than alcohol.
The governor decided not to sign SB 491, instead allowing it to become effective without his signature. In addition to “decriminalizing” simple possession of marijuana, this new law also reduces possible sentences related to the sale and cultivation of marijuana, including the current ban on probation or parole for those with 3rd felony offenses.
Unfortunately, the law is somewhat limited. It will not take effect until January 1, 2017, and the protections against jail time only apply to people without prior marijuana convictions. Also, a possession charge — even without the possibility of jail time — is still a crime and can mark a person for life, affecting housing, employment, and future employment opportunities.
Nonetheless, this represents several major improvements, and now statewide law is beginning to reflect those of both St. Louis and Columbia, which previously decriminalized possession of up to 35 grams of cannabis.
MPP wishes to thank Missouri attorney and activist Dan Viets and Show-Me Cannabis for their strong contributions to the new law!
On April 24, the Missouri House and Senate passed a bill that would eliminate the possibility of jail time for people caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana — at least the first time. The bill, SB 491, was sent to Gov. Jay Nixon for his signature on April 28. He has until May 13 to sign the bill or veto it.
Nearly half a million Missouri residents already live in cities, including St. Louis and Columbia, which have local ordinances that treat possession of 35 grams or less as a non-arrestable offense.
SB 491 isn’t the only marijuana-related bill on the move.
Earlier this month, SB 951 passed out of committee; it may soon receive a vote in the Senate. While far from perfect, it would allow a broad range of severely ill patients to use medical marijuana products that include THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. A second, very limited bill, HB 2238, would allow some patients to access CBD-rich cannabis oil with trace amounts of THC. It passed both houses and will be sent to Gov. Nixon for his signature. For an overview of the bill, click here.
The Missouri Legislature made significant progress this year to improve marijuana-related laws, due in large part to the hard work from groups like Show-Me Cannabis.
As more and more Americans support ending marijuana prohibition and an increasing number of states consider marijuana policy reform legislation, it is sometimes easy to forget that there are still a lot of people in prison for marijuana-related violations. As shocking as it may seem, some are slated to spend the rest of their lives behind bars for something that millions of Americans do every day and that people in Colorado and Washington do legally.
One such person is Jeff Mizanskey. He is currently serving life without parole after his third non-violent, marijuana-only offense due to Missouri mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Please sign this Change.org petition asking Gov. Jay Nixon to grant clemency to Mr. Mizanskey.
If you would like to know more about prisoners serving insanely long sentences for marijuana, please visit Life For Pot and share these stories with anyone who will listen. No on deserves to be arrested for a substance that is safer than alcohol, but putting people in cages indefinitely for it is inexcusable.