On New Year’s Day, the new Missouri Criminal Code will become effective! Contained in that massive reorganization of all of Missouri’s criminal laws are several changes which will reduce the penalties for a wide variety of marijuana law violations.
I was honored to serve on the Missouri Bar Association’s Criminal Law Subcommittee which drafted the new Criminal Code.
The change affecting the largest number of people is the elimination of the possibility of a jail sentence for the first offense possession of ten grams or less of marijuana. While relatively few such cases result in jail sentences now, there are at least two counties in Missouri where every single misdemeanor marijuana or paraphernalia guilty plea results in a sentence of five days served in jail. That will no longer happen starting January 1.
In addition, the laws prohibiting the cultivation and distribution of marijuana will carry reduced penalties in the future. Currently, any distribution or cultivation of marijuana, or even the attempt to do so, carries a range of punishment of five to fifteen years in the Missouri Department of Corrections. Under the new Criminal Code, the maximum punishment for first such offenses will be ten years.
Perhaps most importantly, the new Criminal Code eliminates the “prior and persistent drug offender” law. This law allows prosecutors to charge defendants who have two or more prior drug felonies in such a manner that they face a range of punishment of ten to thirty years or life in prison. That sentence must be served without the possibility of probation or parole!
This is the law under which Jeff Mizanskey was sentenced to serve life without parole in prison for his third small marijuana law violation. Jeff has no other criminal convictions whatsoever, but he was ordered to serve life without possibility of ever leaving prison under the law which will be repealed January 1.
In 2015, marijuana law reform advocates, including NORML and Show-Me Cannabis, were able to persuade Governor Nixon to grant Jeff a commutation of his sentence which made him eligible for parole. I had the privilege of representing Jeff in his parole hearing. He was released from prison only a few days after that hearing took place, on September 1, 2015.
NORML, Show-Me Cannabis, ACLU and others will continue to work in 2017, both in the legislature and through the Initiative process, to continue the progress we have made in recent years. Now is an excellent time to make a monthly pledge of support to NORML in the coming year at http://monorml.com/donation/.