The Louisiana Supreme Court last week upheld the ghastly sentencing of Gary Howard to 18 years in a Louisiana state penitentiary, all because he was found in possession of a mere 18 grams of marijuana back in 2014. A jury found Howard guilty of marijuana possession “with intent to distribute” after he was arrested and found with enough marijuana in his home to account for what prosecutors estimated to be about 36 joints. In reality, as dissenting Chief Justice Bernette Johnson pointed out, “the state found Howard guilty of nothing more than possession of marijuana, not of intent to distribute it.” The state’s own expert found that the amount discovered in Howard’s home was “more consistent with personal use” as opposed to “intent to distribute.” A mere 18 grams of marijuana was enough to warrant in the eyes of the Louisiana judicial system eighteen years in prison “without the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.” That’s a year trapped in a cage for each gram. Howard’s imprisonment will cost the state $400,000, which might not be noteworthy were it not for the fact that Louisiana is still struggling to overcome an enormous budget crisis. The Judge in Howard’s case handed down this barbarous sentence citing Louisiana’s “Habitual Offender” law as a determining factor. This law allows Louisiana residents to be incarcerated and sentenced to forced labor for well over a decade upon a defendant’s third “offense”, regardless of how minor it may have been.
The case of one Bernard Noble is another prime example of the egregiousness of Louisiana’s “Habitual Offender” law put into action to destroy the lives of the state’s inhabitants. Mr. Noble, 49, was discovered in possession of just two marijuana cigarettes back in 2010 while in the city of New Orleans. Originally a Judge sentenced Noble to five torturous years of hard labor in a Louisiana penitentiary for the “crime” of possession. However, that wasn’t enough in the eyes of the unspeakably cruel Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro who pushed to extend that sentence to 13 years and three months. The D.A. of course got what he asked and, citing the Habitual Offender law, used the defendant’s prior minor drug possession arrests to see to it that Mr. Noble’s life would be a guaranteed hell on earth. Louisianans should hang their heads in collective shame for allowing themselves to live in a state that allows human beings to be incarcerated for such ungodly levels of time simply for smoking cannabis, and for allowing degenerates such as Leon Cannizzaro to breathe their (polluted) air.
Unfortunately Louisiana isn’t the only state with such draconian sentencing policies (though it most certainly is the worst). A Missouri man by the name of Jeff Mizanskey was only recently freed from state penitentiary after a life sentence he’d been given for a nonviolent marijuana-related “offense” in 1996 was commuted by Gov. Jay Nixon. However, by the time of his release in 2015, Mizanskey had already spent nearly two decades behind bars. Then there’s the case of Devontre Thomas, a 19 year-old Native American youth who was arrested on March 24, 2015 while attending “a boarding school operated by the federal bureau of Indian education.” Although recreational use of marijuana was legalized in the state of Oregon in 2015, Devontre Thomas was charged by the U.S. attorney’s office with possessing a single gram of weed or “enough for about one joint.” For this he is faced with a maximum of one year in a federal penitentiary, which is unfathomable for a misdemeanor “offense”, and would surely have a devastating effect on the teenager’s future following him well into adulthood.
Thomas’s case is illustrative of the ways in which even after some states have relaxed their anti-pot laws, both state and federal authorities have ratcheted up the war on teens of color. The “relaxing” of the laws seems only to apply to white cannabis users. As noted by The Guardian,
Despite legalization in Colorado, for example, marijuana arrests have gone up for black and Latin teens but down for white adolescents, a recent state report found.
There can be no further justification for the war on pot and cannabis users, particularly as it has become abundantly clear that it is the laws that punish marijuana possessors which are doing the most harm to society, more than marijuana itself ever could.
This is just plain evil and reflective of the culture.
Thanks for raising this issue, Caleb. Our prison system has evolved into a profit-making enterprise and also provides a cheap, reliable, and constant labor force.
Indeed, I was reading the other day how some right wing authoritarians want to contract prison labor to build Trump’s apartheid wall.
This is sick. Since emancipation, states have looked for ways to re-enslave Africans in America, and when you read words like “hard labor” in the sentencing of African-Americans (who are arrested, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced at disproportionate rates), you realize what this is really all about: economic exploitation of Africans in America. Nothing has changed in the last 400 years.
Exactly. When I read those words “sentenced to 5 years of hard labor” I immediately recognized it for what it is: Slavery by another name.
There is something horribly wrong with the justice system 😒
Horrible is to put it too kindly!