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Man who served nearly 20 years behind bars says new Missouri marijuana law is step in right direction

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jail time is now off the table for some first-time offenders busted with marijuana in Missouri. This new law comes years after a Sedalia man was told he'd spend his life in prison for his three  non-violent pot offenses.

Jeff Mizanskey was granted clemency, and released from prison in 2015, after serving nearly 20-years of the sentence. He says this new law only scratches the surface in what it aims to do.

Simple things bring joy to Mizanskey, like playing with his grandson`s dog down by the water. The 63-year-old is also reflecting on special moments lost over two decades behind bars.

"A lot of time with my family, a lot of work. Of course money I couldn`t put away for retirement," said Mizanskey. "I had granddaughters growing up. One got married two weeks before I got out."

He is among a list of critics who say his life-sentence in no way fit his crimes.

"Especially when you`re sitting in prison and you`re seeing rapists come in and out like they got the keys to the place. Guys who commit murder go out and do a sentence and come back in," recalled Mizanskey.

Effective January 1, some first- time offenders won`t be staring down a jail cell if they're busted with pot. If a first time offender is caught with up to 10 grams, they get a fine, but not jail time. It will be considered a misdemeanor, and not a felony.

It`s not a law that wouldn't have kept Mizanskey out of jail, but he sees some benefit for others, especially young first offenders who can still turn their lives around.

"It`s a step in the right direction. I`m glad people are opening their eyes and seeing where we`re at, but we have to go farther," said Mizanskey.

About 130 lawmakers signed a letter to governor Jay Nixon asking for Mizanskey`s release, with one pointing out his sentence came under a law that was repealed.

In a 2015 interview Republican Missouri Representative Shamed Dogan told FOX affiliate KTVI: "I hope fewer and fewer people are incarcerated for these types of lengthy sentences for something that's being decriminalized in other states. It's being outright legalized in other states."

Mizanskey thinks eventually Missouri will follow and legalize it too. FOX 4 tried to hear from several groups that oppose marijuana use for reaction to the new law but haven`t heard back. Many of those groups have call pot a dangerous gateway drug, and have vowed to fight it`s legalization.

Mizanskey told FOX 4 he used to smoke pot to help with back pain and PTSD. He says was in the military and lost several friends who fought in the Vietnam War, though he was not sent to fight in Vietnam himself. Mizanskey says he no longer smokes pot, but would if it was legal.