It seems like a wave of marijuana legalization and acceptance is sweeping across the country. One place it hasn’t reached, though, is a prison cell in Pettis County, Missouri.
Jeff Mizanskey, 61, is more than 20 years into a life sentence for a nonviolent marijuana charge. It’s the harshest punishment possible for such a charge, and he’s the only one in the state serving it, according to KCTV news.
"I believe it is an unfair sentence,” Mizanskey told KCTV. "I'm pretty much a loner out here."
The background: Mizanskey had been arrested in 1984 and again in 1991 for pot possession and sale. So he wasn’t really given the benefit of the doubt in 1993 when the car he was driving (he claimed he was just giving a ride to a friend) was found to have blocks of marijuana in the trunk.
It was his third drug-related felony, and despite the fact that none were violent offenses, the judge gave him the harshest possible punishment: life without parole. Even the prosecutor now calls it excessive.
“Think about it, it’s the harshest, most severe penalty that anyone has ever received for a drug crime in Pettis County,” Jeff Mittelhauser told KCTV. “I would support his request for clemency, if he would stop misinterpreting his criminal history, and his involvement in the offense.”
Mizanskey hasn’t admitted to a 1993 crime, but still appealed the sentence 1995, 1997 and 2011. All have been rejected, meaning Mizanskey’s only hope is a a clemency order from governor Jay Nixon.
Change in attitudes: While Gov. Nixon reviews the clemency request, the stigmatization of marijuana is evaporating elsewhere. Recreational use is now legal in Colorado and Washington (just ask Mike Boyer) and medicinal use is legal in 23 states.
The Obama administration has even admitted that imprisonment has very little effect on curbing illegal drug use, saying the government’s new policy "rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation's drug problem."
It hasn’t been a clean break from the policies of the past, though, as Mizanskey’s son Chris knows. “All of the other convicted men involved were set free years ago,” he wrote online asking for support to get clemency for his father. “But my dad was given a virtual death sentence.”