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.
Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced that it would be releasing approximately 6,000 federal prisoners early as a means of alleviating some of the damage done by years of overly harsh drug sentencing.
Washington Post reports:
The early release follows action by the U.S. Sentencing Commission — an independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal crimes — that reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders last year and then made that change retroactive.
The panel estimated that its change in sentencing guidelines eventually could result in 46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison qualifying for early release. The 6,000 figure, which has not been reported previously, is the first tranche in that process....
The releases are part of a shift in the nation’s approach to criminal justice and drug sentencing that has been driven by a bipartisan consensus that mass incarceration has failed and should be reversed.
Along with the commission’s action, the Justice Department has instructed its prosecutors not to charge low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations with offenses that carry severe mandatory sentences.
It is unclear how many of the prisoners being released had been sentenced for marijuana-related violations, but this is surely a step in the right direction toward more just and humane drug policy.
The only man in Missouri serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for non-violent marijuana related
offenses is now getting released from the maximum-security prison in Jefferson City, according to the man’s son.
Jeff Mizanskey was told Monday morning that he has been granted parole, according to his son, Chris. Chris Mizanskey says his dad should be released within 10 to 25 days. He says his dad called him briefly Monday morning to share the news. They planned to talk again Monday night.
Jeff Mizanskey has already served more than 20 years in the prison for repeat marijuana offenses. He is now 62-years old.
As more and more Americans support ending marijuana prohibition and an increasing number of states consider marijuana policy reform legislation, it is sometimes easy to forget that there are still a lot of people in prison for marijuana-related violations. As shocking as it may seem, some are slated to spend the rest of their lives behind bars for something that millions of Americans do every day and that people in Colorado and Washington do legally.
One such person is Jeff Mizanskey. He is currently serving life without parole after his third non-violent, marijuana-only offense due to Missouri mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Please sign this Change.org petition asking Gov. Jay Nixon to grant clemency to Mr. Mizanskey.
If you would like to know more about prisoners serving insanely long sentences for marijuana, please visit Life For Pot and share these stories with anyone who will listen. No on deserves to be arrested for a substance that is safer than alcohol, but putting people in cages indefinitely for it is inexcusable.
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.
On Monday, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber signed into law two bills that make sensible changes to Oregon’s marijuana laws. These new laws, which took effect immediately, reduce the severity of the punishment for certain marijuana crimes.
SB 40 reduces penalties for possession of more than an ounce of marijuana. SB 40 reduces the criminal penalty for possession of more than four ounces of marijuana from a class B felony, which carries up to 10 years in prison, to a class C felony, which has a maximum sentence of five years in prison. It reclassifies possession of one to four ounces of marijuana from a class B felony to a class B misdemeanor — reducing the maximum sentence from 10 years to six months. It also reduces the penalty for unlawful manufacture of marijuana from a class A felony to a class B felony — reducing the maximum prison term from 20 years to 10.
SB 82 eliminates a penalty for possession of under an ounce of marijuana, which is already a civil violation. The bill eliminates a section of law that forced courts to suspend the driving privileges of people found in possession of under an ounce of marijuana unless there were compelling circumstances not to. Please note that absent compelling circumstances, courts must still revoke the driving privileges of an individual found in possession of an ounce or more of marijuana.
In a bizarre case of history repeating itself, another celebrity has been arrested in the Texas border town of Sierra Blanca. Sitting just 10 miles from the Mexico border, Sierra Blanca has an interstate running through it that has become quite a lucrative source of cash and publicity for the local sheriff. In the past several years, Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg (I mean, Snoop Lion), and hacker George Hotz have all been stopped at the same check point and either cited or arrested for marijuana possession.
Now Fiona Apple has joined the club, and it is no laughing matter. Apple was caught with a small amount of marijuana and hash, but it is more serious than it seems. In Texas, possession of any amount of hash is treated as a felony. The amount Apple supposedly had on her bus is punishable by at least two years in prison, and up to 10!
Texas law punishes hash and other marijuana concentrates much more severely than simple marijuana, even though they are essentially the exact same thing aside from the potency. Anything under four grams gets you the penalty Apple is facing, but anything over that can get you 20 years in prison, and over 400 grams can put you behind bars for 99 years.
Texas is one of the few states that make this dubious distinction, but it isn’t the worst. Last April, Oklahoma passed a law making manufacture of hash punishable by a life sentence.
We’ll keep you updated, but it looks like this talented singer could be doing serious time for merely traveling through the wrong town carrying a substance that is safer than alcohol.
Note to celebrities or anyone traveling in a fancy tour bus: STAY AWAY FROM SIERRA BLANCA.
If you were worried about going to prison for getting caught with marijuana in Arkansas, you can breathe a little easier today.
Back in March, the Arkansas Legislature, backed by Gov. Mike Beebe, passed a law to reduce the penalties for possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. Starting today, a judge may place a person under probation for a year without formal charge, instead of the regular sentence of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. This option is at the discretion of the judge, so be nice in court, and don’t count on this offer if you have prior convictions.
Still, it represents a huge leap forward. Until now, possession of anything over an ounce got you four to 10 in jail and a $25,000 fine. I’ll take a year of probation and no criminal record over that any day!
And while not being decriminalization, the probation option is pretty close, and the possession limit of four ounces is one of the highest of any decriminalized state in the country.
The law also makes intent to deliver small amounts of marijuana a misdemeanor instead of a felony and lessens the penalties and status of subsequent possession violations.
The fact that this is happening in Arkansas of all places is clear evidence that this country as a whole is moving in the right direction. Marijuana reformers in every state should take note and keep working hard with their local and state lawmakers to maintain this momentum. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.
Today, in a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision ordering California to reduce its state prison population by more than 30,000 prisoners. It found that as a result of overcrowding, the prisoners’ “medical and mental health care … has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements ... .” Even after the prison population is reduced, California’s prisons could still be over 37% above capacity.
The dissent painted a picture of a public safety disaster if the inmates were released. But, in reality, California prisons are far more dangerous to some of these inmates than those inmates have ever been to society. As the court noted, “needless suffering and death have been the well documented result” of current conditions.
Outrageously, many prisoners are there for nothing more than growing or delivering a plant that has never caused a fatal overdose — marijuana. In California, cultivation of marijuana (other than under the medical marijuana law) is a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison.
For participating in the production or sale of a substance safer than alcohol, these non-violent marijuana offenders face possible death in prison. The Supreme Court quoted a lower court ruling that prisoners were needlessly dying every five to six days as a result of the conditions. For example, “A prisoner with severe abdominal pain died after a five-week delay in referral to a specialist; a prisoner with ‘constant and extreme’ chest pain died after an eight-hour delay in evaluation by a doctor; and a prisoner died of testicular cancer after a ‘failure of MDs to work up for cancer in a young man with 17 months of testicular pain.’”
The state of California will decide who will be released. But this decision should result in the release of all non-violent marijuana offenders who are in state prison. Unlike violent and property criminals, their crimes had no victims. Then again, if decisions on who to imprison and who to let free were in keeping with reason and morality, we wouldn’t see non-violent marijuana offenders sentenced to life while convicted child sex offenders walk free on probation …