After 21 years behind bars, a man who had been sentenced to life without parole for a cannabis offense walked free on Tuesday.
Over two decades ago, Jeff Mizanskey was found guilty of his third drug conviction, after being caught attempting to sell 6 lbs of cannabis, which police said he conspired to sell to a Mexican drug cartel. In the years that followed, he became a national symbol of the extremity of prison sentencing in the War on Drugs, as one of the few prisoners in the nation serving such a harsh sentence.
But thanks to shifting public opinion on cannabis, Missouri governor Jay Nixon commuted his sentence in May. The commutation made it possible for Mizanskey to petition before a parole board, who granted his request for freedom. Finally, on September 1, 62-year-old Mizanskey walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center — after 21 years and a third of his life in prison — surrounded by family and flashing cameras.
“I finally made it to freedom,” Mizanskey told reporters after his release. “There are a lot of people in here who deserve the same thing.”
Mizanskey was on his third drug offense in 1996 when he was sentenced, and a Missouri law at the time made life without parole a possibility for a repeat drug offense. That law has since been changed, which Governor Nixon noted in his commutation, along with the fact that Mizanskey was a non-violent offender who had never sold cannabis to minors.
In his time behind bars, Mizanskey watched as 22 states legalized medical marijuana and four states legalized adult-use cannabis. He also saw President Barack Obama pardon the largest number of non-violent drug offenders in our nation’s history.
About half of the 200,000 federal prisoners are drug offenders — though most were incarcerated for drug trafficking — and about 27,000 of those prisoners are marijuana offenders.
Mizanskey said that he plans to advocate for marijuana legalization now that he has been freed.
Video by NowThis posted here.