Simply being arrested for marijuana possession is bad enough, and can have life-long consequences. But imagine spending 13 years in prison for a small personal amount of a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol. That's what Bernard Noble, a Louisiana man with a history of minor non-violent drug possession offenses, has been subjected to since being convicted in 2010. Now, thanks to the tireless work of his family, his defense attorney, advocates around the country, he will free in 2018.
Huffington Post reports:
Bernard Noble, a 50-year-old father of seven, has spent the last six years in prison in Louisiana serving out a sentence of 13 and a half years for possession of what was the equivalent of two joints’ worth of marijuana.
Noble’s case was a rallying cry for those seeking reform of harsh sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders. And Monday, after years of litigation, multiple articles on his case (including from The Huffington Post), documentaries, podcasts, rallies and petitions, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro agreed to resentence Noble to eight years, Noble’s attorney Jee Park announced in a statement. That means he could be free in less than two more years given the time he’s already served behind bars.
“To me, eight years is still too long for Bernard and his family,” Park said, “but the prospect of going home and being reunited with his children in less than 2 years brought relief to Bernard.”
Park said she’s hopeful that Noble, who she described as a “caring and responsible father, successful entrepreneur, [with] no violence in his past” might be paroled and released even sooner. Noble’s previous sentence did not include the possibility of parole.
Noble was caught with the equivalent of two joints’ worth of marijuana in 2010. At first, Noble was sentenced to five years in prison. But the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office appealed that ruling and took the case all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Noble had seven prior convictions on his record, stretching back to 1989. All were convictions for possession of small amounts of drugs; two were for cocaine and the rest were for marijuana. All were nonviolent, and four were misdemeanors and three were felonies. The state used two of the felony charges in their branding of Noble as a “habitual offender” under Louisiana law. That allowed them to apply the maximum possible sentence against Noble, without a chance of parole.
Read HuffPost’s full interview with Noble from 2015 here.
MPP would like to congratulate Mr. Noble on this victory and thank all the people whose efforts are helping bring him home.
Georgia has begun releasing marijuana and other drug offenders who were sentenced under the state’s harsh sentencing laws. The new law allows those facing life sentences for illicit sales to be considered for parole. Unfortunately, it doesn’t apply to those facing sentences just for possession.
Following adoption of a misguided “get tough on crime” campaign in the 90’s, many Georgians found themselves in horrifically long prison terms for nonviolent offenses, including the sale of marijuana. Journalists with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that black people were an astonishing 26 times more likely to receive life sentences than were whites under these laws.
For many, the war on marijuana seems to be winding down. But for those who languish in prison under long sentences, the war could mean a life sentence.
The first person to benefit from the new law was Darion Barker, sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for sale of marijuana and other drugs. Officials released him in July after serving 20 years.
But while the new law is a major step forward, there is more to do. Others just like Darion remain behind bars, many for lesser charges, including marijuana possession. If you are a Georgia resident, please ask your representative and senator to include those subject to long prison sentences for possession to be eligible for parole like Darion.
Thursday, the Louisiana Senate overwhelmingly approved HB 681 — modest marijuana policy reform — with a vote of 30-7. The House previously approved the legislation in a near-unanimous vote, 92-1!
HB 681 would make positive, albeit modest, reforms to the way Louisiana treats a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge for someone who is on parole. Currently, acquiring a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge while on parole automatically results in parole revocation. If signed by Gov. Jindal, this legislation will give judges discretion to penalize parolees charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession with administrative sanctions instead of outright revocation.
While this is a small step towards sensible marijuana policies, it is at least a step in the right direction.
Many recent victories towards ending marijuana prohibition give hope that our justice system will stop incarcerating nonviolent adults who choose to use a substance safer than alcohol. However, even though there are now fewer people serving long prison terms for marijuana, our justice system still permits these sentences, and there are many being victimized by these harsh policies across the country.
The ACLU recently released a report called “A Living Death: Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses,” including stories of people who have been sentenced to serve life sentences without parole for non-violent marijuana offenses. States are able to pursue a sentence of life without parole if a person has multiple offenses on his or her record, even if those are also nonviolent. As a result, nonviolent, productive members of society are locked away for their entire lives for being associated with a substance that is safer than alcohol.