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In 1996, Jeff Mizanskey was sentenced to life in prison for selling marijuana. On September 1, 2015, he was finally released.

Photo via Free Jeff Mizanskey/Facebook.


When Mizanskey was convicted, Missouri law allowed anyone who could be considered a "persistent drug offender" to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Since Mizanskey had already been convicted of two drug offenses, he was sent away for life.

After nearly 20 years behind bars, his family was shocked and thrilled in May when they heard that Governor Jay Nixon had decided to commute his sentence to includethe possibility of parole.

They were even more thrilled when parole was almost immediately granted.

"There's probably not enough words to describe how awesome it was and amazing of a day it was to get my dad back," Chris Mizanskey, Jeff's son, told Upworthy.

Jeff and Chris MIzanskey. Photo via Free Jeff Mizanskey/Facebook.

"It really did take the times to change, and people to start realizing that marijuana wasn't the evil drug they made it out to be."

Chris credits the the successful legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington, and petition drives held by groups in Missouri for helping change public attitudes about marijuana, persuading lawmakers to support his father's release.

Mizanskey's original sentence was highly unusual for his crime, even by the often-draconian standards of drug convictions in many U.S. states.

Photo via Free Jeff Mizanskey/Facebook.

A clemency petition written by Mizanskey's lawyers notes that, while Mizanskey was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to sell seven pounds of marijuana, the "leader of an international organization importing and distributing multi-ton shipments," was sentenced to only eight years in prison.

It goes on to mention that the subject of the "biggest maritime marijuana arrest on the West Coast," was sentenced to 10 years, and released after serving only four.

Despite the increased support for criminal justice reform from policymakers, drug offenders continue to turn up in prisons at alarming rates.

A report from the FBI cites drug abuse violations as the single highest arrest category in the United States, with over 1.5 million arrests in 2012.

As of July 2015, drug offenders were the single highest subpopulation in federal prisons, nearly triple the next highest category.

A spokesperson for Governor Nixon's office declined to comment on whether the governor would be issuing more sentence commutations to non-violent drug offenders.

Now that he's free, Mizanskey plans to advocate for the legalization of marijuana.

"He's going to advocate for legalization. He doesn't want anyone else to be stuck in his situation," Chris said.

"No one really does belong in jail for a plant."

In the meantime, his family is overjoyed to have him back after the long struggle to free him.

Jeff meeting his great-granddaughter for the first time. Photo via Free Jeff Mizanskey/Facebook.

"He'll be here the rest of his life and the rest of mine, and that's the best thing in the world," said Chris.

And the celebration doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

"Oh my goodness, I think he's ate so much food we're going to have to go join a gym."

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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