A Missouri man who was serving a life sentence for a non-violent marijuana crime will soon be free, his lawyer said.
Jeff Mizanskey, 61, was locked up for more than 20 years. The decision to release him was announced by the Missouri Department of Corrections Aug. 10, and attorney Dan Viets said his client was scheduled to leave prison within days.
“We were notified today that he will be granted parole and be released within ’10 to 25 days,'” Viets said.
Mizanskey was busted in a sting operation in 1993 and convicted of trying to sell roughly six pounds of weed in a single transaction. The charges did not involve violence or any other serious crimes.
Low-level drug offenders punished by mandatory minimums
The life sentence, which excluded parole, came in the midst of a booming war on drugs. Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses had come into vogue and were used widely to punish countless low-level dealers and users.
But even by the standards of the Clinton years, Mizanskey’s punishment was seen as excessive. It took two decades and a wasted life, but officials in Missouri finally came to the same conclusion.
Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, commuted Mizanskey’s sentence, making him eligible for parole. Nixon also pardoned five other non-violent drug offenders, though they had already finished their sentences.
Mizanskey was convicted under an old “three strikes” law, which was repealed in 2014. These laws have been used since the early 1990s to punish repeat offenders, resulting in dramatically outsize penalties for minor crimes, aggravating prison overcrowding, and setting the justice system back years.
Mizanksey labeled a “prior and persistent drug offender”
Mizanksey’s case was seen as an especially bad example of overkill by the courts. He was labeled a “prior and persistent drug offender” because of two previous non-violent pot crimes and given the harshest possible sentence.
Advocates have long fought for Mizanskey’s release. A recent petition on Change.org had gathered about 400,000 signatures as of August, and supporters celebrated their win at the Free Jeff Mizanskey page on Facebook.
“Great news everyone,” one post read. “Jeff is coming home this month! We want everyone to know how grateful we are for all the support received throughout this whole ordeal.”
Drug offenses make up a relatively small portion of all crime, but marijuana busts account for half of those drug-related convictions. In 88 percent of cases, charges involve nothing more than simple possession of cannabis, according to a study by the ACLU.
Indeed, arrests for marijuana possession are a widespread problem. More people were arrested in 2011 for simple possession of weed than for all violent crimes combined. What’s more, the ACLU report found that black users are arrested at much higher rates than white stoners – even though all races use pot at roughly the same rate.