Two Point Eight: A Father's Story Of Cannabis Criminalization In America

By Bernard Noble

Every 90 seconds, someone is arrested for cannabis in the U.S. In 2010, I became one of approximately 500,000 Black fathers to be removed from their homes and imprisoned. This Father’s Day, I’m reflecting on the incredible power of what legal cannabis has done for my family and I after cannabis criminalization once tore us apart. I hope the future can be bright, not just for future generations, but for those that lost years of their lives while incarcerated due to cannabis possession, which today is legal to over half the country’s population.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city I call home. Neighborhood landmarks torn to pieces and streets transformed into waterways were the remnants of a place I could hardly recognize. Wallowing in sorrow and staying in place was never my strong suit, so I sought a fresh start in Kansas City – a simple place filled to the brim with BBQ lovers and football fans, but it was missing something. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but I found it sitting right on the tip of my tongue. Before I knew it, I was spreading the love of my hometown by selling traditional New Orleans dishes and treats throughout Kansas City. However, there was one minor problem. A few of the ingredients I desperately needed were best kept in my hometown.

On a trip down to New Orleans to pick up ingredients, I mounted my bicycle as I had done countless times before, and began riding it down the street heading to the market. Then, something happened that has unfortunately occurred countless times before. I stopped to say, “hi” to two friends I saw on the way, when we were stopped by the police and searched. They found a small amount of cannabis, 2.8 grams on me which turned into my arrest.

What would cost $5 on the street eventually cost me more nearly a decade of my life. At the bang of a gavel, I went from feeding the people of Kansas City to being forced to pick cotton while incarcerated. When I refused, I would spend months in solitary confinement, unable to communicate with my mother, siblings or children. Because of 2.8 grams of cannabis, I lost the ability to maintain a consistent relationship with my kids and the opportunity to attend my brother's funeral, the only thing I had left was my spirit.

The spirit of optimism is infectious. When I had little reason to believe that things would improve, they did. My family’s undying desire to bring me home resulted in a petition that would garner 75,000 signatures. From VICE to The Huffington Post, journalists began asking about me, my story and how two joints worth of cannabis could land a thirteen year prison sentence. Shortly after, Louisiana lawmakers passed a bill to reduce the mandatory sentence for cannabis in 2015. The law didn't apply retroactively, but it opened the door for my release on parole in 2018.

I don't hold grudges or wallow in what I could have done with those years of my life because the only sad part about this story is that I am not the only one with it. For every month I was incarcerated, I would meet someone with a similar story. One person could be locked up for five years over 0.5 grams, while another could be imprisoned for ten years over three grams. Some may have their stories told by journalists with large followings, but most will not, and that never sat right with me.

When you leave prison, they don't exactly give you a playbook that will help ease the transition. Instead, you're left with the responsibility of rebuilding the relationships you lost and you're left to answer the key question everyone asks themselves in critical moments: how will I make the most of my life? As I searched for the answer, I met Fred Brathwaite, known to most as Fab 5 Freddy. The same person who popped up on my television years ago on YO! MTV Raps had reached out to my family that he’d interviewed at my sister’s house as he took an interest in my story. Before I knew it, a segment in his documentary, Grass Is Greener, turned into a cannabis brand honoring my name and my story.

Just five years since my incarceration, I can proudly say Fab and our partners at Curaleaf have brought the B NOBLE cannabis brand to nine states around the country, and we are just getting started. The path we have taken has led us back to the prisons and cells where thousands of people like myself are being kept away from their families. I know all too well how it feels to miss family funerals, birthdays, holidays and celebrations with the people you love more than yourself, and frankly, I never want anyone to experience those emotions. It is impossible to help everyone, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to try.

This past week, I made a new friend, Richeda Ashmeade. If it wasn't enough for her to be named after her father, she smiles like him too. When she speaks about him, it sounds like poetry. As a father, it sounds like all the things you'd ever want your child to say about you. There's just one major obstacle in their father-daughter relationship. Her father, Ricardo Ashmeade, has been sentenced to 22 years in jail for something legalized and decriminalized across the country — cannabis. Fab 5 Freddy, Curaleaf, The Last Prisoner Project and I will ensure that Richeda can spend Father's Day with her Dad for the first time in five years. We are also working with The Last Prisoner Project to ensure that Ricardo and 50 other fathers around the country will have the commissary funding necessary to purchase food, toiletries, family phone calls and medical treatment, but it can't end there. One visit is not enough, and one person incarcerated for nonviolent possession is far too many. It is time to right history.

In the coming months, I will welcome another child into this world and I refuse to have them grow up under the harsh systems I did. I don't know what the future holds or where my work will take me next. However, I do know that we and millions of others will not stop fighting until the battle is won. And in those moments that I question myself or find it hard to carry the same optimism that got me through my time in prison, seven years, I'll say one short message to give myself a bit of assurance. Be noble, or be gone!

 

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