Pubdate: Wed, 02 Sep 2015
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2015 The Associated Press
Author: Summer Ballentine, The Associated Press


Kin, Lawmakers Argued Sentence Too Stiff As Attitudes Have Changed

Jefferson City, Mo. (AP) - A man sentenced to life without parole on 
a marijuana-related charge was freed Tuesday from a Missouri prison 
after being behind bars for two decades - a period in which the 
nation's attitudes toward pot steadily softened.

"I spent a third of my life in prison," said Jeff Mizanskey, 62, who 
was greeted by his infant great-granddaughter. "It's a shame."

His release followed years of lobbying by relatives, lawmakers and 
others who argued that the sentence was too stiff and that marijuana 
should not be forbidden.

Mizanskey was sentenced in 1996 - the same year California became the 
first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Medical marijuana is now legal in 23 states, and recreational 
marijuana has been legalized in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington 
state and Washington, D.C.

"The reason he's getting out is because the public clearly has 
changed its opinion about marijuana, and it's just one of many ways 
in which that has been reflected in recent years," said Mizanskey's 
attorney, Dan Viets.

Just last year, the heavily Republican Missouri Legislature Jeff 
Mizanskey speaks Tuesday after being released from the Jefferson City 
Correctional Center after having served two decades of a life 
sentence for a marijuana-related charge in Jefferson City, Mo. Justin 
L. Stewart, The Associated Press passed a law to allow certain people 
with epilepsy to seek treatment with a marijuana extract containing 
little of the chemical that causes users to feel high and larger 
amounts of a compound called cannabidiol, or CBD. The patients can 
include babies, Viets said.

Police said Mizanskey conspired to sell 6 pounds of marijuana to a 
dealer connected with Mexican drug cartels. At the time, the 
life-with-no-parole sentence was allowed under a Missouri law for 
repeat drug offenders. Mizanskey already had two drug convictions - 
one for possession and sale of marijuana in 1984 and another for 
possession in 1991.

He was the only Missouri inmate serving such a sentence for a 
nonviolent marijuana-related offense when Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon 
agreed in May to commute his sentence. The commutation allowed 
Mizanskey to argue for his freedom before a parole board, which 
granted the request in August.

The governor cited Mizanskey's nonviolent record, noting that none of 
his offenses involved selling drugs to children. The law under which 
he was originally sentenced has been changed.

Other states are re-evaluating punishments for drug-possession 
crimes, motivated in large part by the high cost of imprisoning 
low-level, nonviolent offenders.

In Connecticut, a new law will make possession of small amounts of 
hard drugs, including heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine, a 
misdemeanor for a first-time offense, rather than an offense carrying 
up to seven years in prison. Nebraska and Alabama expect to save 
hundreds of millions of dollars by using new laws to cut down on the 
number of offenders locked up for possessing small amounts of drugs.

In Missouri, backers of two ballot initiatives to legalize pot have 
permission from the secretary of state to begin collecting signatures 
to put the issue before voters in 2016. Another petition proposes 
reducing sentences for nonviolent drug offenders who are serving time 
without opportunity for parole.

Mizanskey said he will not smoke marijuana now that he's free; he's 
on parole, after all.

But if it ever becomes legal on the state and federal levels, he 
said, "definitely."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom