While some cities and states across the U.S. are taking radical steps toward reforming marijuana regulations, a Missouri man named Jeff Mizanskey -- and several other U.S. inmates like him -- could die in prison for pot possession.
Arrested in December of 1993, Mizanskey was found guilty for possession of five pounds of marijuana and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, as reported by Missouri-based news site River Front Times.
Mizanskey's son, Chris, and Missouri attorney Tony Nenninger, are asking Gov. Jay Nixon to grant the elder Mizanskey executive clemency and amend his prison sentence.
Nenninger's clemency plea on Jeff Mizanskey's behalf outlines his history of pot-related crimes, none of which involved weapons, violence, juveniles or other aggravating factors. He also describes the hazy circumstances of Mizanskey's third felony conviction: He was arrested while giving a ride to his friend, Atilano Quintana, who had arranged to purchase seven pounds of marijuana; Quintana later testified that Mizanskey was unaware of his plans.
Though Mizanskey had never previously been to jail and had never committed a violent crime, he was given life in prison under Missouri's "prior and persistent drug offender" law, which allows judges to order life sentences for third-time felons, even for non-violent drug charges. Mizanskey appealed the conviction in 1995, then again in 1997 and once again in 2011 -- but to no avail.
From Nenninger's letter:
I am not aware of any other person in Missouri who is serving a life sentence for non-violent cannabis-only offenses. It is no secret that all recent major polls indicate over 50 [percent] of Americans, including Missourians, favor the complete legalization of adult use of marijuana. We are not asking you to commit to this new majority preference for cannabis legalization, but rather as Governor of Missouri to represent the current population's modern socio-political trends to liberalize marijuana laws in considering the commutation of Jeff's sentence.
Indeed, 58 percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, according to an October Gallup poll.
Nenninger told the River Front Times in October that Gov. Nixon has a buildup of 2,000 clemency pleas. He has only once granted clemency to a Missouri prison inmate, Nixon spokesman Scott Holste told The Huffington Post.
Holste also said he could not confirm the status of Mizanskey's clemency request and noted that the department does not typically comment on individual cases. He added that clemency pleas are first reviewed by the Board of Probation and Parol before progressing to the governor's office. In the past, Probation and Parol has faced criticism for its lack of transparency, per The Associated Press.
While faced with these intimidating odds, Nenninger and Chris Mizanskey are hoping that a letter-writing campaign could help bring the governor's attention to Jeff Mizanskey's case.
Neither Nenninger nor Chris Mizanskey were immediately available to comment.
Jeff Mizanskey is not the only U.S. citizen currently facing life in prison for marijuana. LifeForPot.org has compiled a list of 21 convicts serving life sentences for non-violent marijuana-related crimes.