In 2010, 47-year-old Bernard Noble was arrested by two cops in New Orleans for possession of a bag containing a little less than three grams of marijuana. He was subsequently sentenced to 13 ⅓ years in prison under Louisiana law, a substantial sentence for a nonviolent offense.
Earlier this year, Weediquette host Krishna Andavolu investigated Noble's story, as well as discriminatory legal practices toward African Americans regarding marijuana-related offenses at-large. This week, Noble's ongoing saga took a positive turn: A district attorney agreed to reduce his sentence to eight years and give him parole eligibility, meaning he'll likely be out of jail by 2018.
We caught up with Andavolu to talk about the specifics of Noble's case, as well as what's next and what it means for sentencing for marijuana-related offenses in the future.
VICE: Walk us through what's happened to Bernard Noble up to this week's court decision.
Krishna Andavolu: In 2010, Bernard Noble was arrested for possessing 2.8 grams of marijuana—about two joints' worth. He had prior convictions, so he was sentenced under mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws in Louisiana. His case has been seen as demonstrative of the excesses of the war on drugs and how it overreaches in regard to punitive measures. Every element of his story elucidates the sort of indignities and injustices of the war on drugs in each case—and his arrest was [the result of] a racially motivated stop. It's a really extreme case, and it's really maddening to know that a person is in jail for such a minor offense for such a long period of time. It's demonstrative of the larger problem of racially motivated mass incarceration, and how the war on drugs has devalued and dehumanized citizens of this country.
Why was Noble's sentence reduced now?
Bernard's lawyer from the Orleans Parish Public Defender's Office has been negotiating with the DA over the last year or so for a revised sentence. The DA has been really aggressive over Bernard's sentencing, so the softening is a testament to the coverage of the case: The more people know about it, the more outrage is directed at that office and the district attorney. It's Louisiana, so they're still a punitive state—they're the capital of mass incarceration for the country, perhaps the world. So the fact that this is happening, even though he's not out of prison yet, is a remarkable occurrence. Moreover, his family is thrilled, and it gives hope for him to get through the next couple years.
What does this specific case say about changing attitudes toward marijuana in America?
Not much. There's a new governor of Louisiana—a Democrat—so perhaps there's a bit of a tone change from the top down. But it's still Louisiana. Weed is not legal there, and it probably won't be for a very long time. This is more of a testament to how advocacy and shining a light on individual stories that are unacceptable can actually produce change over time. It's one guy, he's going to get out soon, and he's not yet released—but it's about chipping away at the edifice of shitty practices and injustice.
Do you think progress will continue to be made in regard to sentencing and the treatment of nonviolent drug offenders?
As far as letting people out of the system who are in there for marijuana, there's a few statutes. California's Prop 64 language has a stipulation for releasing prisoners who are there for possession. There's still no avenue for that to actually happen, but there's this nebulous idea that people should be let out of prison for things that are now legal. The path forward is pretty unclear, though.