Although it is predicted that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will sign legislation in the coming weeks to reduce the state’s penalties for possession of marijuana, his sudden change of heart in regard to cannabis crimes may be more of a political scam than a sympathetic gesture—especially since non-violent pot offenders enslaved by unruly sentences continue to be denied their freedom.
According to Newsweek, Governor Jindal has refused to grant clemency to 49-year-old Bernard Noble, who was sentenced in 2011 to over a decade in a Louisiana penitentiary for possession of just enough weed to roll a couple of joints. Noble, a father and, up until the time of his arrest, a gainfully employed member of civil society, fell victim to Louisiana’s habitual drug offender statute based on two previous convictions for possession.
Despite some leniency from the court, Nobel’s third offense, in which he was caught in possession of less than 3 grams of weed, eventually nailed him to the cross in a ruthless tug of war between a couple of trial judges and the Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. Although the courts believed five years in prison was enough time for Nobel to properly repay his debt to society, stating that his sentence “will be a greater punishment for his children than for himself,” Cannizzaro’s office was not satisfied with the outcome. He appealed the verdict several times in the Louisiana Supreme Court until Nobel was buried up to his neck in prison time—13.3 years with no possibility for parole.
As it stands, Nobel has served four years behind bars, which drug reform advocates believe is more than sufficient for an offense involving a substance that continues to be legalized all across the United States.
“Bernard’s sentence is a prime example of the draconian nature of the marijuana laws in many states across the country,” Anthony Papa, media relations manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, wrote last year in The Huffington Post. “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.”
Yet, due to the wild-eyed nature of the law, the governor will not even consider clemency in Nobel’s case until after he has severed another six years in the slammer. Even with the support of over 60,000 signatures on a petition lobbying for Nobel’s freedom, the barbed wire scope of the law suggests that the Jindal’s administration will not so much as give the case the time of day until after he has served at least 10 years of his sentence.
Without a doubt, Louisiana is a veritable concentration camp for marijuana offenders, currently housing more prisoners for petty pot-related crimes than any other state in the nation—with some of these people forced to spend as much as 20 years in prison due to the state’s three-strike rule.
Earlier this year, however, state lawmakers approved a measure that would drastically reduce the amount of prison time a pot offender can receive. House Bill 149 would whittle away at the current antiquated drug policies by slowly reforming the criminal justice system as it pertains to marijuana-related offenses. The proposal, which is reportedly lingering on Governor Jindal’s desk waiting for a signature, would ensure that no one ever spends more than eight years in prison because of marijuana.
However, Jindal’s yet-to-be-seen action on this reform bill will not be retroactive and will in no way provide relief for the thousands of pot prisoners sentenced to hard labor inside the Louisiana prison system. For those people, much like Nobel, they will be forced to endure a decade of hell before they can even petition the system for an early release. Most of these prisoners, unfortunately, will not ever be given this consideration.
Last week, the Drug Policy Alliance’s Anthony Papa contributed another piece to The Huffington Post regarding the Nobel case, arguing that despite the recent stand-up actions of President Obama granting clemency to 22 drug prisoners, “Gov. Jindal and his administration refuses to” follow his lead and “show compassion.” Instead, he chooses to ignore the injustice surrounding the incarceration of a man for 13 year over two joints.
In a recent interview with The Des Moines Register, Jindal, who is considering the pursuit of a Republican nomination for president, suggested that he would contemplate federal drug reform if he was elected into the White House in 2016. However, considering Jindal’s unwillingness to make those types of changes in his own backyard, we sincerely doubt he is prepared to take a progressive approach to guiding the nation out of prohibitionary times.