Freed Pot Prisoner on a Mission to Reform Missouri’s Brutal Weed Laws

A man who spent more than 20 years in prison for weed is spending his newfound freedom out organizing to make the plant that got him locked up legal. Jeff Mizanskey, a 62-year-old grandfather and icon of the movement, has only been out of prison for six months, but wasted no time working to collect the signatures necessary to put medical marijuana on the Missouri ballot in November.

According to a Riverfront Times profile on Mizanskey, he contacted New Approach Missouri, the group behind the medical marijuana push in Missouri, the day he was released. Mizanskey’s activism is fitting: The man became the face of prohibition’s brutal consequences while still behind bars.

Mizanskey was sentenced to life without parole after his third felony marijuana-related convention in 1993. In 2013, a hard-hitting Riverfront Times reported titled “How a Missouri Man Could Die in Prison for Weed” dove into Mizanskey’s case and exposed the severity of mandatory minimum sentencing requirements in Missouri. Activists organized around Mizanskey’s case, and in 2015, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon commuted his sentence; later that year, Mizanskey walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center, greeted by supporters and press.  

Mizanskey’s severe punishment and the Riverfront Times’ attention to his case elevated him to a symbol of the injustice of marijuana prohibition, and highlighted the absurdity of Missouri’s uniquely harsh laws on punishments for weed. As the Riverfront Times explained:

"The unusual sentence was an extreme result of Missouri's unusual three-strikes law. Under the state statute, a person with three drug-related felonies can be subject to a minimum of ten years and a maximum of life in prison without parole if a prosecutor chooses to charge him as a ‘prior and persistent drug offender.’ According to the American Civil Liberties Union, no other state in the country has a drug-specific three-strikes law."

Now a free man with a mission, Mizanskey is motivated to move Missouri toward reform-minded marijuana policy.

"I finally made it to freedom," he said upon his release. "There's a lot of people in here that deserve the same thing."

Read the Riverfront Times’ reporting on Mizanskey’s case here

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