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Another Voice: Freed, after 13 years for two joints

By Anthony Papa

Bernard Noble, an individual serving 13 years for possessing two marijuana joints was granted parole earlier this year after serving more than eight years in a Louisiana prison. His case reached a national audience that was outraged because of the circumstances of his case. How outrageous is this when many states have legalized 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 nonviolent drug offenses.

In the past the Drug Policy Alliance tried to help Noble by filing a friend of the court brief in the Louisiana Supreme Court, calling for judicial relief. Noble’s appeal was denied which caused outrage by the marijuana community across the nation. Noble then filed for clemency but was denied by former Governor Bobby Jindal.

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, “From Prohibition to Progress: A Status Report on Marijuana Legalization,” total cannabis arrests in legal marijuana states have been reduced sharply since legalization with Colorado experiencing an 88 percent drop between 2012 and 2015 and Oregon decreasing pot stops by 96 percent from 2013 to 2016.

To be sentenced under unjust laws to a tremendous amount of time is unconscionable. I should know since I served 12 years of a 15-to-life sentence for a nonviolent drug crime. In 1997, after serving 12 years I was granted executive clemency by then-New York Gov. George E. 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 7 children behind because of two joints. It’s unreal that a case like his could exist with the tremendous strides in the reformation of the marijuana laws in the United States. There are many other individuals that are serving tremendously long sentences for the possession of marijuana. It is time that they return home to be reunited with their families in the name of justice.

Anthony Papa is the manager of media and artists relations for the Drug Policy Alliance. He is the author of "This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency."

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