Reefer Madness, Louisiana-Style

As a former prisoner who served 12 years of a 15-to-life sentence for a nonviolent drug crime in New York, I know all too well the draconian nature of the war on drugs.

I was lucky enough to be granted executive clemency in 1997. Since my release I have continued to advocate for prisoners who are stuck in prison, sentenced to tremendous amounts of time for small amounts of drugs.

This year, one case in particular stands out and cries for justice — the case of Bernard Noble who was sentenced to 13.3 years of hard time for the possession of two marijuana cigarettes.

Earlier this year the Drug Policy Alliance tried to help by filing a friend of the court brief in the Louisiana Supreme Court, calling for judicial relief for Bernard Noble.

After Noble’s appeal was denied, many are calling on Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal to grant Noble executive clemency.

Bernard’s sentence is a prime example of the draconian nature of the marijuana laws in many states across the country. In stark contrast to Louisiana, many states have decriminalized possession of marijuana for personal use, with the offense being punishable by a fine and with no threat of jail time.

Also, four states and the District of Columbia have outright legalized, taxed and regulated the cultivation, sale, possession and use of marijuana by and for adults.

A range of important people are calling for justice for Bernard Noble.

One of them is retired Orleans Parish Criminal Court Judge Calvin Johnson who said, “[t]he mere fact our law is structured such that a defendant can be sentenced to 13.3 years in jail for possession of two marijuana cigarettes speaks volumes about our antiquated sentencing structure. It is imperative that we change the sentencing structure.”

Noble’s original sentencing judge considered the 13 and a third-year sentence egregious and imposed a sentence of five years of hard labor. But the Orleans Parish District Attorney wasn’t satisfied with this punishment and appealed the sentence.

Ultimately, the district attorney sought and obtained a prison term of close to triple the sentence imposed by the original sentencing judge.

Noble has never been convicted of anything more serious than possession of drugs for personal use. Because of two prior low-level, nonviolent drug offenses, Noble fell within Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Statute, which brings his sentence for his marijuana possession offense to thirteen and one-third years and has deprived him of the opportunity for earlier release on parole.

To be sentenced under unjust laws to a tremendous amount of time is unconscionable. I know because it happened to me. This holiday season, Bernard Nobel’s family will be praying that Governor Jindal will show some compassion and grant Bernard executive clemency so he can be reunited with his family. It is surely the right thing to do.

Anthony Papa is the author of 15 Years to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom and Communications Specialist for Drug Policy Alliance. He can be reached at: anthonypapa123@yahoo.com



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Anthony Papa is the Manager of Media and Artist Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance and the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Lockdown.

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