Bernard Noble, who was sentenced to 13 years for possessing two marijuana joints, was granted parole yesterday after serving more than 8 years in a Louisiana prison. His case drew national attention and outrage, at a time when states are legalizing marijuana and individuals are making big bucks with the business of marijuana.
Bernard was riding his bike up a one way street the wrong way when police stopped him. They found two marijuana joints in his possession and threw the book at him because of two prior low-level drug law violations.
The Drug Policy Alliance filed a friend of the court brief in the Louisiana Supreme Court in 2014, calling for judicial relief, but the appeal was denied. Then, in 2015, the Board of Pardons and Parole rejected Noble’s petition for clemency because he had not served 10 or more years in prison. (Louisiana state law requires prisoners to have been in custody of the Department of Corrections for a minimum of 10 years before they’ll consider an inmate’s application for clemency.)
Bernard’s sentence is a prime example of the draconian nature of the marijuana laws in many states across the country and one in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions advocates for. Sessions has been very vocal about turning back the hand of time in America’s war on drugs.
In stark contrast to Louisiana, many states have legalized and decriminalized possession of marijuana for personal use. According to a new DPA report, total marijuana arrests in legal marijuana states have plummeted -- saving hundreds of millions of dollars and sparing thousands of people from being branded with a lifelong criminal record.
To be sentenced under unjust laws to a tremendous amount of time is unconscionable. I know this because I served 12 years of a 15-to-life sentence behind bars for a non-violent drug crime. In 1997, after serving 12 years I was granted executive clemency by New York Governor George Pataki.
Noble has never been convicted of anything more serious than possession of drugs for personal use, but because of the draconian nature of Louisiana’s drug laws Bernard was forced to leave his home and his seven children behind. It almost feels unreal that a case like his could happen despite the tremendous recent strides in marijuana law reform. But there are still over 500,000 people getting arrested in the U.S. every year just for getting caught with a small amount of marijuana.
It is time that all prisoners of the war on drugs are returned home to be reunited with their families, in the name of justice.
Anthony Papa is manager of media and artist relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.