Life Without Parole for Cannabis

Black Hands Handcuffed in Prison
Photo by: Thawornnurak/Shutterstock

There are many people spending long sentences behind bars for non-violent cannabis related crimes. Given that medical cannabis is now legal in the majority of states, and with recreational cannabis legal in several others, it is absurd that our government should fail to grant a pardon to these non-violent offenders serving sentences for a drug that is rapidly becoming legal. Some of these prisoners are serving life sentences without parole behind bars for possession, sale, or cultivation of cannabis.

Look at Jeff Mizanskey, for example. Jeff has spent the last 20 years behind bars, and unless pardoned, will serve the rest of his life in a prison cell for being involved in a marijuana transaction. In 1993, Jeff drove an acquaintance, Atilano Quintana, to a motel in Sedalia where Quintana planned to purchase several pounds of marijuana. This transaction was a part of a sting operation by police because the men selling the marijuana had been busted previously. In surveillance footage, it’s clear that it wasn’t Jeff that actually purchased the cannabis, but Jeff was charged with aiding and abetting Quintana. While this is usually a class B Felony, the courts enhanced it to a Class A felony due to Jeff’s prior cannabis convictions. Because Jeff had three prior convictions (all minor offenses involving small-scale cannabis transactions), he was sentenced to life in prison without parole under Missouri’s prior and persistent drug offender statute. Every one of Jeff’s offences were nonviolent crimes.

Now that cannabis is legal, it is unbelievably sad that individuals like Jeff are living in a prison cell for crimes that are no longer crimes. Jeff certainly doesn’t deserve such a harsh penalty for his actions, he deserves justice.

Fortunately, after years of attempts to contact the Missouri Governor for a pardon, Gov. Jay Nixon announced today that he will be reviewing Mizanskey’s sentence. Per KMBC:

“Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said he will take a “hard look” at the case of a 61-year-old man serving life in prison for marijuana.

In his first extensive public comments about the case, Nixon told KMBC 9 News he will review the life sentence for Jeff Mizanskey before his term ends in 2016.

“It’s a very serious amount of time,” Nixon said. “If the laws change after someone is sentenced, then you want to give those things a close look.”

Below is an excerpt from the petition started by Jeff’s son Chris, which wonderfully explains why Missouri’s Governor should do the right thing and grant clemency to Jeff:

“By Chris Mizanskey

My father Jeff Mizanskey has been in prison for 20 years and has no possibility of parole. For non-violent, marijuana-only offenses, my father has been sentenced to die in prison because of a “three strikes” mandatory sentencing policy in the State of Missouri.

Dad’s first offense was in 1984 when he sold an ounce to an undercover informant, and then was found to possess a half pound of marijuana when police raided his house the next day. His next offense occurred in 1991, when he was caught in possession of a couple of ounces. But for my father’s final strike in 1993, he became an easy fall guy in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana. My dad was driving a friend to a deal that turned out to be a sting operation. All of the other convicted men involved were set free years ago, but my dad was given a virtual death sentence.

My dad is, and always has been, a good man. He taught my brother and I all about construction and a good work ethic. He has never been violent and he is a model prisoner. And over the 20 years he has been in that little cell, he has watched as violent criminals, rapists, and murderers have “paid their debts” and left sometimes just to return a few months later.

My father is 61 years old, and has been in prison since he was 41. His parents, my grandparents, have since passed. While my dad has been trapped behind bars, generations of kids and grandkids have been born into our family who have never even met the man. The State of Missouri spends roughly $22,000/year to keep him locked up. Meanwhile all my dad wants to do is be a productive part of society, work and pay taxes, be with his family. And I want my dad back.

Governor Jay Nixon is the only person who has the power to bring my dad home by granting clemency to Jeff and calling 20 years punishment enough. Please help us reach a just and reasonable end to his prison sentence by signing and sharing this petition.”