September 1st, 2015, is a day that many cannabis law reform advocates will never forget. It is a day that certainly brought a few tears of joy to my eyes, as Jeff Mizanskey, a man that I had never met at the time, was released from a Missouri prison after serving more than two decades for nonviolent marijuana offenses. The fact that a nonviolent man could be sentenced to life in prison, to be told that he would die in prison, over cannabis, was simply unconscionable and advocates from around the globe rallied to his cause.
Mizankey’s plight not only inspired activists to speak out, but also everyday folks not tied to the cannabis cause. I have friends and family members who aren’t necessarily legalization supporters who signed petitions urging for Jeff’s release. The fact that non-legalization supporters became aware of draconian sentences like Jeff’s has helped our cause greatly and his case actually led to a change in Missouri law so that no nonviolent marijuana law offender will ever be sentenced to life in prison ever again.
Since his release one year ago, Jeff had dedicated his life to improving cannabis laws for the better, becoming one of our movement’s most important advocates. The Columbia Missourian reports:
One year ago, Mizanskey walked out of Jefferson City Correctional Center a free man, after 21 years behind bars for intent to distribute marijuana.
Since then, Mizanskey has traveled to California, Texas, Michigan, Nevada and the nation’s capital telling his story. In Missouri, he has worked closely with Show-Me Cannabis, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and a coalition called New Approach Missouri to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot.
Along the way, he has listened as people shared their stories of marijuana use and its medical benefits.
Also from CBS affiliate in St. Louis:
Mizanskey says he is more than grateful for all the help he has received over the years. His supporters raised funds, put up billboardsand started a letter-writing campaign on his behalf. ”If it wasn’t for people getting together, speaking up I would still be dying today,” he says.
However, Mizanskey adds he’s not the only person who needs help.
“I would like everyone to remember all our brothers and sister that are in prison who don’t have the voice I have, that don’t have the opportunity I have, don’t have the help. We have to do something about that,” says Mizanskey.
I was honored to meet Jeff Mizanskey and his son Chris last year and found them both to be such genuinely compassionate souls. It was really one of the highlights of my activism career and helped remind me why we fight for freedom and how we can make an important difference in people’s lives. On this, and every September 1st, let’s celebrate Jeff’s release as Jeff Mizanskey Day, if you will, and celebrate a great victory for freedom, but like Jeff says, always remember that there are many more people to languishing in prison and that we won’t rest until we are all equal and free.