It's not every day that a Missouri lawmaker proposes a bill to free one man from prison.
This week, however, Republican representative Shamed Dogan did exactly that with House Bill 978, which would allow a parole board to release any prisoner serving a life sentence for nonviolent marijuana charges.
There's only one Missouri convict who fits that description: Jeff Mizanskey, a 61-year-old grandfather who has spent more than two decades behind bars because of the state's draconian three-strike law for drug crimes.
Although Dogan's bill doesn't mention Mizanskey by name, the freshman lawmaker (representing Ballwin) made his intentions clear in a Wednesday press release in which he called Mizanksey's imprisonment a "miscarriage of justice."
"It is unconscionable to me that this man, who is no danger to society, will spend the rest of his life in prison at taxpayer expense," Dogan said. "Many of my legislative colleagues have come together to implore the governor to commute Mr. Mizanskey's life sentence, but to date the governor has done nothing more than promise to review Jeff's case before he leaves office."
Indeed, as we reported last week, Missouri governor Jay Nixon appears to have had a change of heart when it comes to Mizanskey. He told a Kansas City news station that he would take a "hard look" at the case.
As for why Mizanksey is rotting away in jail, Riverfront Times broke that story in a 2013 feature that detailed the relatively minor (and nonviolent) pot busts that preceded his 1993 arrest for being involved in the sale of a six to seven pounds of marijuana. But because it was his third drug offense, Mizanskey was sentenced to life without parole under the state's Prior and Persistent Drug Offender statute, a law that was repealed last year.
"I fully support long sentences for repeat violent offenders, because I believe the punishment should fit the crime," Dogan said in the statement. "In Mr. Mizanskey's case, I am outraged by the fact that someone who violated our marijuana laws is being treated as harshly as a murderer and incarcerated for life."
Dogan is hardly alone in his push to change Missouri's legal stance on marijuana crimes. Two groups, Show-Me Cannabis and the former chapter of Kansas City NORML (now called Sensible Missouri), hope Missouri voters will back ballot petitions for full legalization in 2016. You can read more about those efforts here.