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Mizanskey released from prison


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A man sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole was released today after spending twenty years behind bars.

Jeff Mizanskey’s release comes after years of lobbying by his family, appeals from legal representatives, marijuana advocates and work by state lawmakers, all of whom argued the life-sentence for the non-violent and model prisoner Mizanskey was simply too harsh.

Mizanskey was sentenced in 1996 when authorities accused him of selling 6 pounds of marijuana to a dealer with connections to infamous Mexican drug cartels. Mizanskey was sentenced to life after being found guilty under a Missouri law — modeled after federal mandatory minimum drug laws — which allowed for repeat drug offenders with no violent crimes on their record to serve life in prison.

Mizanskey had previously been cited in two marijuana-related arrests: one for possession of a small amount, another time for the sale of a small amount. Neither crime was treated as a felony. Since his sentencing, Mizanskey has increasingly become a poster child for advocates of drug law and prison reform who say such sentences do nothing to enhance public safety and cost the taxpayers millions every year. He was the only prisoner in the state to serve a life sentence for a non-violent marijuana arrest.

Earlier this spring, Rep. Shamed Dogan, a Republican, offered a piece of legislation that would have required Gov. Jay Nixon to have Mizanskey released on parole, a bill Dogan said was meant to create more public awareness about his case. In May, Nixon agreed to commute Mizanskey’s sentence and allow him to argue his case to a parole board.

The law under which Mizanskey was originally sentenced has since been changed, in part thanks to the sweeping criminal code reforms approved by lawmakers last year.