B Noble is hitting the cannabis scene with a focus on social equity and righting the wrongs of the War on Drugs.
With cannabis now legal for use by adults in 19 states, the conversation in many jurisdictions has turned to mitigating the harm caused by the failed, albeit continuing, War on Drugs. The recent approval of legalization proposals in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut hinged on robust social equity provisions that addressed the disproportionate harm caused by prohibition in communities of color. Meanwhile, early adopters of cannabis reform such as Colorado are now adopting measures to make their regulated cannabis industries more inclusive.
Many cannabis activists, however, argue that true social equity can come to legal cannabis only with the support of the growing industry itself, rather than relying on public policy alone to right the wrongs of the past. Many groups, including Cage-Free Cannabis, the National Diversity and Inclusion Cannabis Alliance, and the Last Prisoner Project are turning to firms making money in regulated marijuana to help fund decarceration, expungement, re-entry, and other restorative justice initiatives for the victims of failed cannabis policy.
“This is something we reiterate to cannabis companies constantly when we’re trying to fundraise for these programs,” LPP executive director Sarah Gersten told High Times last year. “We believe that every cannabis company—and really, every individual who is able to profit off this industry—has a moral imperative to give back in some way to those who suffered from prohibition.”
B Noble: 13 Years for Two Grams of Weed
One example of some of the draconian penalties meted out for minor marijuana offenses is Bernard Noble, who was sentenced to 13 years hard labor (yes, such a thing still exists in 2021 America) for possession of about two grams of weed. Although Noble had been caught with only enough cannabis for about two joints, previous convictions for possession of personal quantities of cocaine and marijuana subjected him to harsh, mandatory minimum sentences.
“I was labeled as a kingpin with a $5 marijuana charge,” Noble remembered incredulously in a Zoom interview with High Times.
Considering the severity of his sentence at a time when fortunes were being made in dozens of states with legal recreational or medical cannabis, Noble’s case caught the attention of criminal justice reform advocates including the Drug Policy Alliance, Jason Flom of the Innocence Project, and hedge fund manager and billionaire Dan Loeb. As publicity for Noble’s case began to grow, Flom and Loeb brought his plight to the attention of filmmaker Fred Braithwaite, better known as Fab 5 Freddy, former host of the show Yo! MTV Raps.
“Along came this guy named Fab 5 Freddy, that I watched on TV all of my life,” Noble said. “Jason and Dan put him on my case, and then he started investigating.”
At the time, Fab 5 Freddy was working on his groundbreaking Netflix documentary Grass Is Greener, which explores the connections between cannabis and elements of Black culture, particularly the herb’s contributions to jazz, reggae, and hip-hop. After Fab 5 Freddy and guests including Snoop Dogg, Damien Marley, and Sen Dog and B-Real of Cypress Hill describe marijuana’s influence on music, the film changes gears to examine how cannabis prohibition has negatively impacted Black and Brown communities.
“Bernard’s case happened to be the case that I decided to focus on to show the incredible injustice of these War on Drugs, sham cannabis laws that have plagued people for 80-plus years,” Fab 5 Freddy said in the same virtual interview.
After a convoluted legal struggle that saw a change of Louisiana governors and more than one tweak to state correctional policy including a relaxing of some mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent habitual offenders, Noble was finally released in 2018 after spending seven years behind bars. As he walked out of the prison gates, Fab 5 Freddy’s cameras were rolling to record Noble’s reunification with his family.
A Brand Is Born
Fab 5 Freddy says that creating Grass Is Greener gave him an in-depth eduction on the history and truth about cannabis and the prohibitionist policies surrounding the plant. Additionally, it kindled his entrepreneurial spirit to make a difference for the thousands of lives like Noble’s damaged by cannabis prohibition.
“I’d learned so much that I’d love to do something on the business side, but I also wanted to do something to address these harsh issues, and came up with this idea to create a brand around Bernard’s situation, to inform, to educate, and to provide some quality flower,” Fab 5 Freddy said.
That vision became a reality this week with the launch of the B Noble, a brand created in association with cannabis multistate operator Curaleaf. The launch of B Noble is rife with symbolism, occurring on July 13 (7/13) to signify the seven years of a 13-year sentence Noble spent behind bars. The initial product launch is also symbolic, consisting of a two-pack of pre-rolled joints to signify the two grams of cannabis that led to Noble’s incarceration. B Noble will make its initial appearance at dispensaries in Maryland and Massachusetts, with the brand rolling out to additional states through fall.
Khadijah Tribble, Curaleaf’s vice president of corporate responsibility, said in an email to High Times that the partnership between the company and B Noble is the first large-scale social equity brand venture as part of the Rooted in Good social responsibility initiative.
“Rooted in Good delivers social impact by focusing efforts within three key pillars: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Social Equity; and Sustainability, ultimately achieving key goals through our strategic social partnerships,” Tribble wrote. “Ten percent of proceeds from the sale of each B Noble product will be donated to a local organization dedicated to advancing social equity and providing opportunities to those directly impacted by the War on Drugs.”
In Massachusetts, sales of B Noble will benefit MASS CultivatED, an organization that supports cannabis reform and helps provide pathways toward a successful post-incarceration future. In Maryland, proceeds will go to Changing Perceptions, an organization working with previously incarcerated individuals seeking to re-enter the workforce.
“It’s critically important that in this moment as legalization progresses, we do not forget about people like Bernard Noble who suffered from collateral consequences as a result of the War on Drugs,” Tribble explained. “It’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s also going to make an impact in the communities that have been most impacted by antiquated policies.”
More Work Left To Be Done
In addition to the funds raised for justice causes by the for-profit brand, B Noble will provide an opportunity for Noble to raise awareness of the need for continued reform. And with more than half of the nation’s residents still living under policies that prohibit the responsible use of cannabis despite recent advances in legalization, it’s a message plenty of people still need to hear.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there and telling my story most of all,” said Noble. “I have this amazing platform where I can talk, I can be listened to. I won’t be criticized. I won’t get locked in a cell no more.”