Currently 20 states and the District of Columbia allow for the legal sale of medical marijuana. Two states, Washington and Colorado, have legalized the recreational use of the drug. In Missouri though, one man is suffering a painful irony. Jeff Mizanskey has served 20 years of a life sentence for possession of marijuana. He will likely die in prison because he was convicted of marijuana possession, even as states across the country move to decriminalize the drug. That is unless his son’s quest for clemency for his father is successful according to a story on Takepart.com.
Mizanskey’s son, Chris, was 13 years old when his father went away. The conviction was the elder Mizanskey’s third for marijuana-related charges and he was sentenced under Missouri's Prior and Persistent Drug Offender statute. That law allows judges to hand down prison terms ranging from 10 years to life in prison without parole for three-time offenders of drug-related felonies.
Jeff Mizanskey’s third conviction came after he acted as a “helper” in a 1993 drug deal according to one arresting officer in a Riverfront Times story last year. According to that story he was not the target of the sting operation, he just happened to be in the hotel room when the deal was transacted. He was arrested and charged with possession of five pounds of marijuana. Because it was his third conviction he was sent away for life.
His son’s crusade for his release has gained plenty of media attention recently. The case has become well known in Missouri legal circles as an example of excessive punishment for nonviolent crime.
Chris Mizankey’s efforts led him to cross paths with attorney Tony Nenninger. The two first met while attending a meeting of a Missouri group known as Show-Me Cannabis.
"Chris said, 'I'm here because my dad is doing life in prison for pot,'" Nenninger says of the first meeting. "I could hardly believe it. It stuck with me.”
Nenninger has since agreed to help the son with the clemency plea. Mizanskey has unsuccessfully appealed his conviction in 1995, 1997, and 2011. His son, in the clemency petition, points out how unfair the punishment is, highlighting the nonviolent nature of his father’s crimes.
“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,” the younger Mizanskey says of his dad.
Mizanskey is the only person Nenninger knows of serving a life term for a nonviolent drug crime in Missouri. A recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union details the cases of 110 nonviolent criminals serving life sentences across the country. 79 percent of those in the report are drug offenders.
Nenniger says he hopes his work with the Mizanskey family will help others. "To think that somebody is getting this extreme a punishment is terrible,” he said, adding that Mizanskey’s case “is the single most striking example of a bad law. It's bad for society.”
A 19-year-old factory worker is facing serious charges after his girlfriend discovered a video of him having sex with her dog on his cell phone.
Wayne Bryson fully admitted to having sex with his girlfriend’s Staffordshire bull terrier, and while in court last month, he pleaded guilty to the charge against him.
In addition to being arrested for sexual penetration with an animal, Bryson was caught with 315 grams of marijuana, which he fully admitted to having.
Sentencing is currently set for March 5, and in the meantime, Bryson has been released on bail until he learns his fate. He is not allowed any contact with animals while he is out. Bryson could not offer a reason as to why he had sex with the dog and claims that it was the first time and only he had ever done it. He could serve up to two years in jail for the offense.
Self-proclaimed pro-marijuana activist Mark Roen posted a Youtube video Thursday bragging about arriving at a food bank in his limo and hauling home free supplies.
Roen, also known as “Bong Rip”, admitted that his actions may not be “100 percent morally correct” but that his efforts have exposed how the homeless supposedly exploit the Huntington Beach charity system.
"Look at me, dressed...nicely shaven, hair washed. The lady's asking me if I'm homeless,” Roen said in his video. “I had to say yes. I wasn't really prepared for the whole scam."
The Youtube entertainer added that he lives in his music studio, his limo and occasionally on his parents’ couch. Technically, Roen argued, he is homeless.
Roen also defended his actions by claiming to expose the high sodium products given to the homeless by an unspecified church-run food bank.
In response to the tasteless video, executive director of Someone Cares, a soup kitchen in Costa Mesa, said it was disheartening to see someone like Roen make fun of a person’s unfortunate position.
Lt. Mitch O’Brien of the Huntington Beach Police Department said that while lying to a food bank is disrespectful and rude, Roen technically didn’t commit a crime.
Roen reported that he will return to the food bank Thursday to live stream himself taking food from the kitchen.
The second suspect sought in connection with the February 19 dog-fighting operation bust by St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Office is in custody.
Anthony Boyd, 35, of Breaux Bridge, was arrested on Tuesday, February 25, and booked into the St. Martin Parish Correctional Center on the following charges:
--Cruelty to Animals-47 Counts,
--Possession of Marijuana,
--Possession with Intent to Distribute Schedule II C.D.S.,
--Possession with Intent to Distribute Schedule III C.D.S.,
--Possession of a Firearm with Obliterated Number or Mark,
--Possession of a Firearm in the Presence of a Controlled Dangerous Substance.
Last week authorities executed a search warrant at a residence in the 1400 block of Breaux Bridge Senior High School Rd., in Breaux Bridge, and arrested Jason Haskett, Jr. 25, of Natchitoches, (shown on right).
Haskett was booked on Wednesday, February 19, in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana, on multiple counts of cruelty to animals, dog fighting, illegal drug possession and distribution, possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number and having a firearm while possessing illegal drugs, reports the Advocate.
Louisiana police also put out a bulletin on Antonio Boyd, 35, for questioning in regard to the dog-fighting operation where 47 Pit Bulls were rescued, many of them badly scarred and undernourished, according to the report. In photos of the yard where they were chained, some of the dogs were without any shelter or available food or water.
In November 2010 Boyd had been arrested on multiple counts of aggravated and simple cruelty to animals and on two counts of dog fighting at the same home, Sheriff’s spokesperson Ginny Higgins stated.
Louisiana law sets the sentence for conviction on just one count of animal cruelty at one to 10 years in prison and a fine of $5,000 to $25,000, Higgins said.
Boyd's bond has been set at $140,000.
REWARD FOR INFORMATON
Up to a $5,000 reward is offered by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person involved in illegal animal fighting. Call 877-TIP-HSUS (877-847-4787). Callers’ identities are protected.
A 21-year-old Phoenix woman has pleaded guilty to charges against her after a 2012 incident in which she left her baby on the roof of her car and drove away.
Catalina Clouser was reportedly under the influence of marijuana at the time of the incident. She has been charged with single counts of child abuse and DUI.
According to reports, Clouser, then 19 years old, was at her friend’s home smoking marijuana after finding out that her boyfriend was arrested on DUI charges. When she left her friend’s home, she unknowingly placed her baby boy, who was strapped in his car seat, on the roof of her car and drove away.
Clouser drove 12 miles home before realizing that her son was not with her.
Witnesses discovered the baby still strapped in his seat lying in the middle of the road. The baby was taken to the hospital but did not sustain any injuries.
Following the incident, the child was placed in the custody of Child Protective Services.
A new poll by Quinnipiac University says an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support the legalization of medical marijuana. Furthermore, according to Slate.com, a majority of people in the state also supports the legalization of small amounts of the drug for personal use.
According to the poll, 88 percent of people support the medical use of marijuana, while a slimmer majority — 57 percent — support recreational use. The numbers are likely a bit of relief to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who recently announced a measured plan to introduce the issue. Under Cuomo’s plan, a select few hospitals will be allowed to distribute the drug for medical purposes.
Slate reports there is an expected generation gap among respondents to the poll. Among the 18-29 age group, there is 83 percent support for recreational use. That number drops to 38 percent for those over 65.
Not everyone thinks full legalization would be a good idea. Some citizens voiced concern to New York CBS 2’s John Slattery.
“I don’t like that whatsoever; it’s addictive, it’s illegal, it gets in the wrong hands,” Toussaint Louis told Slattery.
Some medical experts continue to urge caution as well, saying marijuana may be more dangerous than alcohol.
“If alcohol is bad that ship has sailed, and alcohol is a bad drug but that has nothing to do with marijuana,” Dr. Harris Straytner told CBS 2. "Marijuana is a completely separate drug and is bad in its own way."
With support for legalization growing as New York’s medical initiative moves forward and other states, like Colorado, adopt relaxed laws, the voices of detractors may soon be drowned out.
“Medical marijuana is a no-brainer for New York State voters, and they also would follow Colorado in legalizing marijuana for fun," Maurice Carroll, who conducted the poll for Quinnipiac, said. "But a slim plurality don't think legalization has been good for Colorado's reputation.”
"When I realized you could make money in this industry I did an about-face,” says Jim Willet.
Such is the attitude of many of the newcomers to the movement to legalize marijuana.
Willet is a resident of Washington State where recreational marijuana was decriminalized last year. He voted against that initiative and was once a Navy pilot who flew drug interdiction missions. He has since changed his tune and is investing in numerous companies seeking to profit from the relaxed laws in his home state.
The desire to cash in on the burgeoning industry is pulling many individuals and government officials into the pro-legalization fold.
Last year, conservative New York Assemblyman, Steve Katz was arrested for marijuana possession during a routine traffic stop. The arrest made headlines, particularly, because Katz had repeatedly voted against legalizing marijuana. Since that arrest Katz has announced that he is now an advocate for medical marijuana and even legal, adult-use marijuana. Avoiding arrest is likely not the only motivation he found for supporting legalization. His transition from “against” to “for” legalization led him to the discovery that he may be able to make money in a country where marijuana is legal.
"And in the process I am also an investor starting a number of businesses,” he said.
A study by Arcview Market Research shows that the legal Marijuana trade in the United States is already a $1.4 billion industry. It is expected to grow to $2.57 billion this year and could be worth $10 billion in five years, according to the study.
Such numbers were likely part of the Obama administration’s recent decision to clear hurdles for banks who have customers involved in legal cannabis-related businesses. The Treasury Department just released new rules to make it easier for banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers and the Justice Department has directed U.S. attorneys not to legally pursue banks engaged in business with legal marijuana dispensers.
As support for legalization trickles up to the federal level, states are still finding unexpected sources of revenue due to relaxed marijuana laws. Colorado is just beginning to realize the potential for “weed-tourism.” The state expects to see an influx of tourists visiting based, partly, on the fact that they can openly use the drug. Some hotels are considering designated marijuana-smoking rooms.
Sources of hidden revenue like that are just the tip of the iceberg argues Katz. Cashing in on the movement is the way forward.
“The marijuana industry is the next great industry to emerge in our country," he said. "We are looking at a legacy of the great American tradition of free market entrepreneurialism.”
Two weeks ago, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked President Barack Obama if he would consider reclassifying marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, Schedule I drugs are “considered the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence.” All Schedule I drugs are ruled to have no medical use.
Tapper’s question to Obama is a fair one. With roughly half the states in the union legalizing medical marijuana and Obama himself admitting that cannabis is no more dangerous than alcohol, it looks as though marijuana meets none of the criteria for a Schedule I drug. Here’s how Obama answered the question:
“Well, first of all,” he said, “what is and isn’t a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress.”
Legislators in Congress wasted no time acting on the president’s words.
Today, 18 members of Congress sent Obama a formal letter asking him to reclassify marijuana's status in the CSA. The letter says marijuana’s current status as a Schedule I drug “makes no sense.”
“You said that you don’t believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous ‘in terms of its impact on the individual consumer,’” the letter reads. “This is true. Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense.”
The letter goes on to say that classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug disregards “both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half the states that have legalized medical marijuana.”
The Controlled Substances Act gives Congress the authority to reclassify substances. But it also grants that same authority to the U.S. Attorney General and the Drug Enforcement Agency. With Congress declining to take up the issue, the letter sent to the president asks him to direct Attorney General Eric Holder to take action.
“We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II,” the letter says, adding that “one would hope that your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter.”
According to a recent study by John Gettman and researchers at Drugscience.org, marijuana prohibition costs American taxpayers an estimated $42 billion annually.
Eighteen members of Congress have asked President Barack Obama to relax the strict classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance.
“Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., the lead author of their letter, argues. The letter was signed by 16 other Democrats and one Republican, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. It was sent to the president on Wednesday.
According to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I drugs are those substances that have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Schedule I is the CSA’s classification for heroin and LSD.
The letter points out such a classification is at odds with the president’s recent remarks in an interview with New Yorker magazine.
”As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life," Obama said in that interview. "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
While the president may be publicly softening his stance on marijuana, he has said he prefers Congress to act instead of taking unilateral executive action.
"What is and isn't a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress," Obama told Jake Tapper of CNN.
The CSA grants authority to the legislature to reschedule controlled substances, but provisions in the law also allow the executive branch, through the U.S. Attorney General and the DEA, to reclassify drugs.
Attorney General Eric Holder has also stated his preference for Congress to take action first regarding the contentious marijuana classification.
Such a position by the Obama administration contradicts recent remarks about executive action, said Stephen Sherer. Sherer is the executive director of Americans for Safe Access, the largest medical marijuana advocacy group in the country.
“President Obama just told the nation during his State of the Union address that because Congress has been unable to act, he would take executive action where he could on behalf of helping the American people,” he said. “The president has the authority to reclassify marijuana and could exercise that authority at any time.”
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Now, the legal use of the drug for medical purposes is being considered in what many would consider the most unlikely of places: the Deep South.
State lawmakers, some from the Republican Party, in Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana are supporting bills that would allow limited use of cannabis oil for some medical conditions.
Cannabis oil is a substance derived from the marijuana plant that is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana. The oils have been shown to help those, even children, who suffer from severe seizures. They are taken orally.
In Georgia, Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, has backed a bill that would fund old legislation allowing for the research of the drug’s efficacy for specific conditions.
"I'm an unlikely champion for this cause,” Peake said. ”Once people realize it's not a 6-year-old smoking a joint, most folks realize this is the compassionate thing to do.”
State Rep. Mike Ball has sponsored a bill in Alabama that would allow people to possess cannabis oil if they have approved medical conditions.
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has also recently said that he would be open to certain types of legalization legislation.
"When it comes to medical marijuana ... if there is a legitimate medical need, I'd certainly be open to making it available under very strict supervision for patients that would benefit from that,” Jindal said.
Georgia and Louisiana have medical marijuana laws already on their books, point out proponents of the new laws. Those regulations were put in place to help patients suffering from glaucoma, cancer and HIV but are seldom used because there is currently not a national supply of legal medical marijuana.
There are opponents to loosening restrictions on the use of the controversial drug. In Louisiana, Caddo Parrish District Attorney Charles R. Scott weighed in, telling lawmakers, ”Please think very carefully before you amend the current provisions. You have to conclude that marijuana, that THC, has some very bad characteristics. We do not need in Louisiana our workforce to be impaired any further.”
Supportive lawmakers argue that such fears are not justified.
"I am concerned as anyone that we would get to a slippery slope of a broader scope of marijuana use in the state," Peake said of Georgia. "I promise you I will fight that with every bit of energy in me.”