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.”