Three years after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon commuted the sentence of America’s highest-profile cannabis prisoner Jeff Mizanskey, he is now leaving the criminal justice system for good.
Twenty-two years ago, Mizanskey was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole over three nonviolent felony marijuana offenses. The charges against Mizanskey included giving someone a ride to buy cannabis, selling it to a relative and possessing less than 3 ounces. Not exactly Pablo Escobar stuff. As Mizanskey began his time in prison, California passed Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana. This was the snowball at the top of the hill that started today’s modern industry without a doubt, but it was also the when the national conversation began to percolate around changing the country’s draconian drug laws.
As people became more accepting of the idea that marijuana was medicine, then as something that shouldn’t be criminal, and finally as worthy of a modern legal marketplace, the public began to reconsider how the criminal justice system treated cannabis offenses. Over the next decade, public pressure built. What happened to Mizanskey was quickly seen as one of the worst parts of our criminal justice system, and today, locking up nonviolent cannabis offenders and throwing away the key is no longer considered acceptable to a majority of Americans.
Bowing to pressure from the ACLU, reform group Show-Me Cannabis and Mizanskey’s lawyer Dan Viets, Gov. Nixon commuted Mizanskey’s sentence in late spring of 2015, following a letter signed by most of the lawmakers in the statehouse. Three months later, he was released on parole.
Yesterday, almost exactly three years later, Mizanskey announced to supporters on Facebook he was informed by his parole officer he was no longer on parole. His ordeal with the criminal justice system was over.
“I can’t believe this time has finally come,” he wrote.
“I got a call yesterday from my parole officer informing me that I completed my parole and [am] no longer on parole,” he continued. “There are so many of you that work to make this day possible thank you very much. It’s amazing what can be done when everybody works together. Let’s not forget about our other brothers and sisters it’s time they all get out of prisons and jails for all cannabis offenses.”
Not long after his announcement, Mizanskey told Cannabis Now that he is now focused on the other prisoners serving time for cannabis crimes.
“I’m taking it as fantastic [that my parole has ended], but it can never be finished as long as our brothers and sisters are still locked up for cannabis,” Mizanskey told Cannabis Now. “We got to get them home.”
On having his personal experiences intertwined with that of the national cannabis conversation over the last decade, Mizanskey said, “It’s crazy and I really hated to go through it, but at least we’re able to make something positive out of it. I feel it is making an impact on awareness though.”
He went on to note that he supports the medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in Missouri this fall and gave us some insights into his future plans.
“We’ll be letting people know they need to get out to vote — and not just here in Missouri, but across our nation. And while we’re doing that, let’s fight to get other prisoners out that shouldn’t be locked up,” Mizanskey said.
Amber Langston is the former executive director of Show-Me Cannabis. She and others worked tirelessly to help him see his freedom. She was there the day Mizanskey walked out of prison to greet him and has helped him push his message to the industry to rally further support and resources to help others still incarcerated.
“Jeff Mizanskey is truly one of the best people I have met in my life,” Langston told Cannabis Now. “His story has been an inspiration to me personally, and to countless others I have met. Bringing his story forward in Missouri really turned the light on for some of our politicians and staunch opponents. It has taken years of effort and the voices of hundreds of thousands of people to undo his injustice caused by the hands of cannabis prohibition. The cannabis community has become his family, and we are so glad to see him finally, truly free.”
We asked what the Mizanskey case meant to for pro-cannabis advocates, and Langston said that “without a doubt, his case raised awareness.”
“Every single legislator in Jefferson City knew of Jeff Mizanskey and despite all of their differences, pretty much everyone agreed his case was an example of punitive measures gone too far,” Langston said.
Langston mentioned how hard it is to get legislators to agree on anything, much less actually take action to pass a bill.
“We had 130 plus lawmakers give their signatures to a letter, which we presented to a governor known as a tough, rule-of-law prosecutor, who then commuted his sentence. Jeff’s case was egregious,” Langston said. “It’s insane that anyone should have to suffer like he did, and yet there are still many more people like Jeff who are not yet free. Perhaps the end of prohibition is inevitable, as they say. But it can’t come quickly enough for the prisoners of this war.”
Should Missouri become a medical marijuana state this fall, it would be impossible to say Mizanskey didn’t help the cause, whether it was through his activism, his story or the kindness he has shown the world since getting this new opportunity at life.
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