A Missouri man is finally free after serving 11 years behind bars over one pound of marijuana.
On Thursday, Robert Franklin was released from Moberly Correctional Center, located in Randolph County, Missouri—cutting short what had been a 22-year sentence.
In May, Franklin’s sentence was officially commuted by Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons.
“I’m breathing in free air,” Franklin said Thursday, as quoted by local television station KOMU. “It’s great. I’m excited. I’m elated. I got to hug my daughter.”
For Franklin, it is the culmination of a struggle that has spanned the better portion of the last decade.
In April, the Riverfront Times profiled Franklin, detailing how he “tossed a one-pound brick of marijuana out his SUV window—with two Missouri Highway Patrol troopers pursuing close behind” back in February of 2007.
Following Franklin’s 22-year sentence, the publication noted that “Missouri legalized medical cannabis and eliminated its harsh ‘three-strike’ mandatory minimum sentencing law that ensured repeat drug offenders—even those convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses like Franklin—would face a minimum of 10 years in prison without the possibility for parole.”
“I spent all of my 30s incarcerated,” Franklin told the Riverfront Times in a phone interview at the time from the correctional facility. “And it’s stressful knowing people are getting out who were in prison on the same law, but they were caught with more than me.”
Franklin and his supporters might have been discouraged that Parsons, a Republican serving his first full term as Missouri governor, had previously issued eight commutations of drug sentences, but none had been cannabis-related.
Within a week after the Riverfront Times profile of Franklin was published, however, that all changed. On May 5, Parsons granted 13 pardons and one commutation—the latter, of course, reserved for Franklin, who becomes the ninth drug offender to receive clemency from Parsons, and the first to have been serving time for a marijuana-related offense.
“Don’t give up the fight,” Franklin said, as quoted by KOMU. “Keep fighting no matter what they throw at you. Keep going and be an advocate for yourself.”
Missouri Has a History of Handing Out Harsh Sentences for Pot
It was not just Parsons who was slow to offer clemency to marijuana offenders. Before Franklin, it had been six years since a Missouri governor commuted a pot-related sentence. In 2015, then-Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon commuted the life sentence of Jeffrey Mizanskey, who had spent the previous 20 years locked up behind bars in the Jefferson City Correctional Center.
Mizanskey was sentenced to life in prison with no parole back in 1994, becoming the only Missouri inmate to serve a life sentence only for a pot-related offense. His case drew outrage and condemnation from advocates, ultimately leading to Nixon’s clemency of Mizanskey, who was 60 at the time of his release.
In an interview with the Riverfront Times in April, Mizanskey reflected on the sweeping changes to attitudes and laws surrounding marijuana in the United States.
“Well, what I’d like to see is complete legalization on the federal level, or at least, at the very minimum, decriminalization,” he said. “But people now are accepting it, they see that, since legalization, the sky hasn’t fallen, it’s not as bad as what we were all told it was. They’re finding out how helpful it is for people that really need it for medical conditions. I think it’s a big step. It’s going to help a lot of our people—hell, it helps the arthritis that I have. And that’s great. But I think we still have a long way to go.”
“It seems like we take three or four steps forward and one or two back, but we’re getting there,” Mizanskey added. “I believe there’s a lot more cannabis and hemp can give us. People are finally waking up to the fact, and I think it’s going to take time. I’m 67 years old. I hope I’m still here when it happens, but I think it’s on its way.”